Home has always been a gathering place, shelter, and sanctuary, providing escape from the busyness and intrusiveness of the world. Much thought about, treasured, and longed for as an anchor of our existence, home has been the subject of abundant written works and other cultural products. We might reasonably suppose, therefore, that home is a readily understood concept and source of universally positive feelings. On closer investigation, however, neither of these assumptions is found to be true.
The concept of home is constructed differently by different languages; dwellings are built and lived in very differently by diverse groups; and many individuals have negative or mixed emotions regarding their experiences of home life. To embrace all the nuances of meaning, outlook, lifestyle, and feeling that attach to home is a daunting task, but it greatly enriches our perspective on the world.
In recent times, home has become a more problematic notion, not only because of everyday encounters with our homeless fellow citizens, but also because of the great increase in immigrants, refugees, asylum-seekers, and victims of natural disasters in many parts of the world.
Given the strong meanings and emotional associations that home has for us, those who have lost their homes and the things they most valued, or who have never had a proper home in the first place, face psychological impacts and identity crises of massive proportions. Being without a home is devastating on personal, social, and many other levels.
The issues raised by homelessness exist on a world scale and will be aggravated by climate change and rising populations. In the end, they can only be dealt with through united effort driven by compassion and dedication.
Why is home so important to us, then? Because for better or worse, by presence or absence, it is a crucial point of reference—in memory, feeling, and imagination—for inventing the story of ourselves, our life-narrative, for understanding our place in time. But it is also a vital link through which we connect with others and with the world and the universe at large.