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To Build a Home

If there is one thing I can say I’ve learned in my 22 years of life, it is that I’ll settle into any place I go and find a way to call it home. This privilege is something I’ve taken for granted for all of this time. Through the work that I’ve been doing with homeless services in Pittsburgh for the past few months, it has become clear that I am fortunate to hold the views I have. “Home” for me is built upon the support of family and friends. It springs forth from the security of a physical location, from a feeling of comfort and ease, and from the assurance that those things will persist over time. 

For individuals experiencing homelessness, it can be a constant struggle to find stable housing, and often people don’t have the opportunity to connect with their loved ones or create a personal support network. No one can be at ease when something is restricting their ability to meet basic needs. Met with barrier after barrier, it is easy to see how one could lose confidence in their supports and even themselves. I work in and with systems that aim to alleviate burdens such as lack of affordable housing, inconsistent income, food insecurity, and limited access to physical or mental health services. Since the need for these supports is so massive, it can feel like fighting against the current at times. I have learned a lot about trust, and why someone who has been failed time and time again by our system might be closed off or unwilling to accept services. Because of this, it is imperative for me to learn how to open my heart so hopefully, my presence can be reminiscent of a home for some of the people I work with. I think this is part of what it means to “meet people where they are” in the work I do.

As we enter into the frigid winter season, I am brought back day after day to the awareness of my people who are spending it outside. Sometimes those who don’t have a physical house to stay in are able to create homes for themselves on the streets, in tents, and with people who are sharing their experience. But the instability of these components of a home is what I hope will change. Every person deserves to feel safe and comfortable in a space they can take ownership of. I’ve come to a new understanding that a vision of home might look distinctly different from one person to the next, but the opportunity to build that home is a right I would defend for anyone.

Pittsburgh is incredibly different from any of the other places I have considered a home in the past. It’s the largest city I’ve lived in, and it has a unique character. The people are proud and passionate, and most are kind-hearted. It feels unfair that I can simply show up here and claim this space as mine, while so many who have been here for years are still unable to secure physical housing or non-literal homes. Reflecting on this has been a really important part of me appreciating the opportunity I have to call this city home, too. 

I would encourage everyone to think about the place they call home and consider what a great fortune it is to occupy it. Take a moment to think about the realities faced by individuals affected by insecure housing and the impact that has on their perspective of home. Creating a home out of an inhospitable environment is a massive task, one that is forced upon people every single day; it is a task that is so burdensome and yet I have never had to think deeply about how to do it until recently. This is eye-opening. The longer I spend in my volunteer position getting to know people who have to jump hurdles to make their homes, the more grateful I become for the roof over my head and the feeling of home I carry within my heart.

Genevieve Gigandet: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

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