“I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.” Henry David Thoreau
Building our new house has always been about the numbers; square footage, the budget, the orientation to the sun, the property lines, the size of the windows, the budget, the number of cedar boards, the time it takes to frame, the start date, the degree of slant in the roofline, the closing date, the number of gallons in the rain barrel, the budget, the hourly wage for the trades, the temperature of the heat pump and oh yeah, the budget. For someone who prefers words to numbers, it’s been a steep learning curve, and while I am not sure of the percentage of growth, I know I have learned a lot!
I have lived in nine houses over the past six decades, this one will be my tenth, and likely my last. Some of those houses were brand new when I moved in, no one had slept in my bedroom before me. Most were on lovely streets and in ‘good’ neighbourhoods. It never crossed my mind that I would ever be without a home; somewhere safe, and warm and dry. And while my parents, like many, emigrated with little, worked hard, and saved even harder, they didn’t ‘deserve’ those houses, they too were lucky, plain and simple. It could so easily have gone a different way.
Years ago, having recently moved to one of those nine houses, this one in Calgary, I chose to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, a global non profit housing organization committed to creating safe places for families to call home. Inspired by Jimmy Carter, one of my favourite people, I became the Chair of one of the local committees and helped onsite with one of the builds. The experience was humbling, rewarding, and a welcome reminder of just how privileged I had been to have grown up in so many wonderful homes. It was also an introduction to the fact that so many Canadians live in substandard housing, or no housing at all and that for many around the world, the possibility of any form of adequate housing remains unlikely.
The 2016 State of Homelessness in Canada report states that “approximately 35,000 Canadians experience homelessness on any given night, and that at least 235,000 Canadians are homeless in any given year.” It is suggested that these numbers greatly underestimate reality. The BC Homeless Count in 2020 showed 2,095 homeless in my province and the largest number of homeless street youths in Canada are in some of our largest and most progressive cities; Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver.
The United Nations identifies adequate housing as a fundamental human right, defining it as “the right to live somewhere in security, peace and dignity,” yet it would appear that we are still a long way from a lasting solution for this complex problem. And while sheltering in place has become routine for many around the world, and residents in BC are operating within provincial health restrictions, our family is able to continue to build a new house, while sheltering in our current one. We are blessed, and for no other reason than the circumstances in which we find ourselves. I don’t deserve to have a home more than anyone else and I am reminded daily of my good fortune. You will not hear me complain about having to stay home during the pandemic, at least I have one in which to stay.
As we all look forward to better numbers in the coming months; fewer COVID-19 cases, higher outdoor temperatures, and more daylight hours, perhaps it would be prudent to remind ourselves that there are more than 7 ½ billion of us living on this beautiful big planet and each one of us DESERVES a place to call home.
Henry David Thoreau’s house on Walden Pond