Tag Archives: linguistic justice

[Call it like it is] “houseless” not “homeless”

Tent City, Portland

I learned the term houseless when I stayed in Portland, OR this summer. First, I spotted tents here and there around the city, and later I learned that people live in them.

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Images by Kevin Gooley in Smartcity Dive

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A homeless camp has sprouted at West Burnside Street and Northwest Fourth Avenue. [Source: The Oregonian]

House vs Home

There are differences between these two words: house and home. Here are definitions by Merriam-Webster.

House: a building that serves as living quarters for one or a few families

Home: one’s place of residence; house; the social unit formed by a family living together

  1. A house is a building while a home doesn’t have to be a building.
  2. Some people might not have a house (houseless); but everyone has a home.

Everyone has a home not just because of the old saying, “home is where the heart is,” but because everyone lives somewhere. Wherever the person lives, that is their home even if it does not take a form of a building.

Why the distinction matters

Acknowledging this distinction between house and home not only allows us to use an accurate word to describe people who live on streets but also makes difference in how we treat them in our society.

1. Change of our perception

Don’t judge a book by its cover, and don’t judge a person by where they are in their life. One of many challenges that houseless people face is the unkind judgement on them by the members of our society. According to the interviews conducted by Daniel P. (Founder of Theory of Love, a mental health initiative service for houseless people and others in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada), many houseless people feel like “they are treated as less than human.” When we see people on street, the only piece of identity we learn from them is their “homelessness,” and we need to start acknowledging them as individual human beings who are experiencing a life without a house.

2. Planting hope of recovery

As doctors identify hope as a vital factor in a patient’s successful recovery, same goes for people who are struggling with the absence of a house (often along with many other difficulties at hand, which might have led to the houseless situation). Danial P. claims that being called ‘homeless’ can make houseless peopl feel hopeless about their lives.

We all need to feel like we belong, to have a *home base,* a sense of community and social connection in our lives — to feel loved. Being classified as ‘homeless’ truly means you do not have a home, while ‘houselessness’ is simply a state of being.

3. Policy on treating tents

Seattle council member Kirsten Harris-Talley explains that using the term houseless not only adds the context to our conversation around housing issues but also can affect Seattle’s current “sweeps policy.”

The act of forcing people to move their tents is made easier if we ignore the fact that those tents represent homes.

The tents, boxes, or any make-shift structures made by their residents look very different from houses, but they still serve with the functions of homes. Katie Wilson, General Secretary of the Transit Riders Union, agrees on the damaging effects of labeling these residents homeless.

If you say ‘homeless,’ whatever structure they’ve created to shelter themselves is devalued. It makes it seem like less a big deal to move them.

By discrediting the houseless people’s homes and removing them, the city actually makes them homeless.