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This isn’t a post about how much I miss home. This is a post about how my conception of “home” has changed in the past few weeks.

I’m working at the American Red Cross this summer. One of our involvements is the Home Fire Campaign, which offers free, appointment-based smoke alarm installations and fire safety education.

Our appointments brought us to neighborhoods all across the greater New Orleans region. Here, I was able to see firsthand the housing disparities in the region. Some homes were worn down and had limited air conditioning and poor ventilation. My initial realization: housing is a notable determinant of physical and mental health, especially given the stifling heat/humidity of New Orleans. We couldn’t help but notice that some neighborhoods were more affluent than others.

However, I saw the remarkable resilience, sense of community, and profound love for “home” that many held. In an intimate setting, we spoke with people who had lived in New Orleans all their lives. Many had family just minutes away. Many were insistent on spending the rest of their days in the same home in which they grew up. Many came back to the area after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 (Many did not – we drive past homes with their windows and doors still boarded shut to this day). As they showed us around, pointing out existing, often nonfunctional smoke alarms, my eyes were drawn elsewhere.

Entire walls filled with old photos of children, parents, and grandparents. Shelves filled with cooking books, American history books, collectible items, or trophies. The accumulation of years upon years of memories, all in one space.

You can learn a lot about what “home” means to others simply by noticing the items that fill their living spaces. Inequity in housing is an undoubtedly a troubling social issue. But we are often quick to place labels on others who are less fortunate. We are quick to assume that they are unhappy, simply because their house looks a certain way

Clean, uncluttered walls have always been comforting to me. They give rooms a sense of simplicity and openness. My desk is notoriously messy, but it has always been free of anything unrelated to schoolwork. I didn’t really need a photo, piece of artwork, or small memento to pick myself up whenever I felt down.


Maybe that will change, though.