Written by Samantha Kyle, Future Habitat Homeowner #13
What does home mean to me? I was recently asked this question and had to reflect on my own life to understand my answer.
Home, to me, is a place of safety. It is the security of having a place you feel warm and invited into every time you come in from out of the cold. It is a building where all your greatest memories take place.
It is bittersweet memories that did not seem like anything big or memorable at the time that turned into cherished moments. Reminiscing, you know you would give anything to step back into that single moment again… to see one more smile, to give one more hug, to hear one more laugh.
Home is a feeling. It’s belonging. It’s secure. It’s warm. It smells nice. It usually involves good warm food. As an adult with my own children, this is the life I have tried to create for them.
Growing up I had a childhood filled with change. I was in the care of other family members and eventually reunited with my mother. We had a good life, from what my five-year-old eyes could tell. I do know that I moved very often. I switched schools maybe five times before the age of ten. I remember my mother telling me that I had probably moved 20 times by that age as well. I was not a ward of the state or living in chaos, but good apartments on a budget are hard to come by and stability was lacking. I had a growing family of more siblings, parents moving cities to attend post-secondary school, and renting issues like bad landlords or neighbors.
I only have very vague memories of all these different places and new schools, but I do remember never feeling settled anywhere. I remember not knowing what was going on in school because we often moved halfway through the school year. This meant that the stuff being taught – I had no previous experience with. I remember being extremely shy and not wanting to talk to anyone for fear of my lisp being made fun of by kids I didn’t know, or fearing I would not remember the person’s name. I had so many classmates and so many teachers that they all became a blur.
When I brought my children into this world, I knew I would likely face struggles and hardships as a single parent, but I also knew that I never wanted my daughters to know of any of this. I wanted to create that sense of safety in their world.
The first apartment I lived in with both of my babies was in an older part of the city – in a drafty, small, unaesthetically-pleasing second-floor apartment. It was all I could afford and the only place that would take a single Indigenous mother on maternity leave. Finding an apartment was difficult to begin with. I was great on the phone but once I showed up to view the space, I knew I would never receive a call back after they took one look at me. At 23, I still looked 16. I had a baby in my arms and no source of income beyond government assistance.
Luckily, I did find something I felt safe in. It was not ideal but it was safe and had room for couches, cribs, and high chairs. After having my second baby that winter, rodents moved in and I would find their droppings all over the floors my young daughter would play on.
So, after being awake all day with two babies I would get them into bed and clean the house, do the dishes, prep my coffee pot for the next shift, and pick everything up off the ground. After all of that, I would sleep for a few hours and wake up to feed the newborn and disinfect the floors and surfaces while checking traps for mice or rats. To me, this was more stressful than hearing fights outside my building or having people try to kick down my door because they didn’t believe that the people they were looking for were not there.
After one winter of dealing with the mice, I was finally accepted into Sault Ste Marie Housing and was offered a unit on James St. This building had a bad reputation, but it was in the same neighborhood that I currently resided in and this building at least had an elevator. The hardest part about where I had been living was that I needed to go up a long flight of stairs with both children in my arms. I don’t know if you have ever carried a child in a snowsuit on one arm with a diaper bag in the other, but it is nearly impossible.
Moving to James St was an upgrade. Even if I had strange neighbors who tried to steal my cat or my laundry basket, it still felt relatively safe. This place is where we built daily routines, and learned about making friends and personal safety outside. This apartment always smelled like soup, coffee, cookies, playdough, and soap. Everyone who walked into my apartment would comment that it reminded them of their childhood homes. Even friends of friends whom I never met before would mention that it reminded them of being little and walking into their grandparents’ house. I didn’t realize it at the time but I was building a home for my daughters, nieces, and nephews. Not a house but a home.
As time goes on and things changed, I was very excited to start the next chapter of our lives by moving into my current apartment and attending university. During this time, I was grateful to have my own washer and dryer, be near a grocery store, and on a direct bus route to everywhere I needed to go. I was living the life of luxury away from the chaos of downtown and was only a short walk away from the store.
Living in this apartment is where we all learned to become more independent. We started trying new things like family passes at the YMCA, gymnastics, and dance classes. I attended my first lecture at Algoma University and wrote my first paper after being out of school for a decade. I learned how to fix my broken appliances with help from YouTube and children could play by themselves outside with friends from down the street. They began walking to and from school alone using a housekey to let themselves in. This apartment is where I took a chance on school and found employment in my field after graduation and where I learned how to drive a car.
We made a lot of great memories in this apartment but we have outgrown this space.
The beautiful thing about growing is change. We get to grow and experience new things as time goes on. I am ready and excited to be granted this opportunity with Habitat to move forward into this next chapter of our lives. Home to me is a place that I have built time and time again with whatever resources I have available.
I am excited to be given this help in becoming a homeowner because my life has been a struggle. I work hard but the truth is that I am a single person, living on a single income, in a career that was started within the past five years. As time goes on and my career path changes, I will have more opportunities to save money and become more self-reliant. I pay my rent, I pay my insurance, I fix my broken appliances, I have student loans, and I save money wherever I can.
Even with this simple lifestyle, however, I am not capable of saving enough money for a down-payment on a house. Soon enough I will be assisting my children through post-secondary school and completing my goal of getting a master’s degree in social work. As time goes on, I plan to open my own practice which will come with its own challenges.
I am not trying to travel to see the world or buy designer bags. I am simply trying to do the work that I love while raising the people that I love in a positive supportive environment. Providing stability for my children means not moving to a new home every year and having the chance to build routines into our daily lives. Having a stable home that is mine means I can do this.
Without this opportunity, I would have to take on a second job to save enough for a down payment. A second job would mean damaging both of my daughters’ mental health because they would not have me around. To raise healthy children, and to have a healthy family, I need to be present.
I am looking forward to having a home that we can settle into and grow in.