Some words are so powerful they have both concrete and abstract meanings, and “home” is one of them.
Home can be synonymous with “house,” a structure in which we live, seek shelter, raise our families; but it is also an amorphous concept linked to feelings of belonging. I have a little sign in my living room that sums it up in one nostalgic sentence: Home… a place your feet may leave, but your heart will always stay.
Last night in downtown Camden, these two meanings of “home” were driven – so to speak – home for me. Photographer Ni Rong, a presenter at PechaKucha Night at the Camden Opera House, showed a series of incredible images and spoke about finding her spiritual home here in Maine. Meanwhile, directly across the street, participants in the Knox County Homeless Coalition’s inaugural “One Night Without a Home” challenge gathered on the Village Green to sleep in tents, sacrificing their warm beds for the opportunity to raise awareness and funds as they prepared to brave a November storm.
Homelessness is a real issue in Midcoast Maine. Organizers of the fundraiser say that on any given day, they are actively working to house up to 160 people in our area who are without shelter. The problem is often hidden here, a nearly invisible scenario that affects almost as many children as adults. We may not see people sleeping on street corners in Rockport or Camden, but there are teens moving from one couch to another, single moms and kids eking out a day-to-day existence overnighting in vehicles, and individuals who endure cold November nights in unheated, un-insulated, utility sheds.
But home-lessness, my own term for the lack of an emotional base, is here as well. “Some people don’t think anyone cares,” said a local resident who called me yesterday afternoon. She noticed, while canvassing door to door for candidates, a marked disconnect in some of the addresses she visited. “People don’t think they matter,” she said. “They are head down, in survival mode.”
Many of us can relate to what this woman means. Too many of our neighbors have their feet solidly inside some sort of structure – i.e., they have a place to live – but, as Ni Rong showed in her haunting photographs, they do not feel they belong. I sensed this firsthand while meeting people in our district, and it’s bigger than any political divide. What is lacking, I think, is community, a force so powerful it has been shown to affect our very lifespans.
Mainers are independent. We pride ourselves on our ability to be stoic, to get along on our own. It’s true that being autonomous can often be a strength, but today, societal forces such as hectic schedules, polarizing points of views, and dispersed families drive us even further apart, leading in some cases to isolation, despair, and crises like addiction.
National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week has begun. Thanks to the Knox County Homeless Coalition and all those who participated in last night’s sleep out challenge for raising awareness and funds for this pressing local issue. Going forward let’s strengthen our commitment to help those who are lacking a home -- whether it is a physical structure, a sense of belonging, or both.
Paid for and authorized by Vicki Doudera.