By Jim Bell, CEO, Siloam Mission

** This column first appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press **

The small girl at the back of the room raised her hand.

“When you say it that way, maybe I’m homeless too.”

The room fell silent.

When it was still safe to do so, Siloam Mission would often host school groups of all ages — from grade school to University and everywhere in between.

Students take a tour of the drop-in centre and overnight emergency shelter, help sort clothes and other supplies, and spend time learning about the challenges men and women who are homeless face every day.

One of the exercises gets students thinking about what it means to be homeless.

We start by writing the word “home” on the whiteboard. Then we ask students to say the first thing that comes to mind.

As you might expect, the first round of answers is fairly predictable: somewhere to live, shelter from the elements, a safe place, a warm bed for the night.

After a little more prodding, the answers start to change.

A warm hello and a hug from mom when I walk in. The place where I feel fully comfortable being myself. Where people know me…really know me. Acceptance. Where I feel loved.

A soft place to land when I’ve messed up. Where I find belonging. Where I am seen. The people I love the most in the whole wide world. The people whom I belong to, and who belong to me.

Where I can laugh and giggle and be silly; where I can cry and hide and be grumpy. Where I can speak my mind. The feeling of having a warm blanket around you. A spot in my heart that says “I’m safe.”

These are all answers that have come up over the years — from young people of all ages.

As we walk through the exercise, students begin to realize that a home is so much more than just four walls and a roof.

The truth is, most of us think being homeless is being houseless.

A house, or an apartment, is a wonderful thing to have. Most of us take it for granted. In the age of COVID-19, many of us are complaining that we’re house-bound when so many across the world wish they had a warm, safe place to be locked up in.

But a house on its own doesn’t make a home.

The spot in our heart that says “I’m safe” makes a home.

At Siloam Mission, our prayer is that the men and women who use our services will find both.

Our Transition Services team works with people every day to get them one step closer to moving into a place of their own.

Some of our clients have felt the warmth of a caring home, but have lost it. But many others have never known what it feels like to grow up in a supportive and caring environment.

To give them the best start possible when they transition to a place of their own, we put together “Move Out Kits.” They’re a combination of a care package and a home-warming gift that provides them with the essential furniture they need.

From night tables and dressers, to coffee makers and dust pans, these kits are helping men and women exit homelessness by moving into a place of their own.

If you want to contribute to helping someone get started on the right foot, you can always call our main line and see if your furniture or household item is something that can go in a Move Out Kit.

But to make that new place a home? That takes more than furniture and four walls and a roof.

One of the best things you can do to prevent homelessness is to make sure your house is a home for everyone you know.

Make sure your colleagues, your friends, your family, your spouse and your kids know they are loved. Make them feel seen and understood. Make sure that when people walk through your front door, they feel that spot in their heart that says “I’m safe.”

The little girl at the back of the room had a house to go back to after her day at Siloam Mission.

She had a room and a bed and a pillow.

But she felt like she was missing many of the things that would make it a home.

Don’t let that be your house.