What moving during a pandemic can teach you about home

OPINION: Packing up during self-isolation is stressful — but it encourages you to count your blessings
By Nam Kiwanuka - Published on Apr 08, 2020
The author’s daughter assists with packing. (Nam Kiwanuka)

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When my family made the decision to move, way back in November, we had no idea that we would end up doing so during a global pandemic. 

Throughout my life, I’ve lived in many homes. I’ve lived in a two-bedroom apartment with my father, stepmother, and five siblings. I’ve lived in a makeshift home with a rusty tin roof and a pit latrine outside. In a refugee camp, a rooming house, and countless apartments in basements and high-rises. No matter the structure or what was happening inside it, home has always provided a degree of protection from the unpredictability happening outside. The few times I’ve had to sleep outside, thankfully, my mind wove a thick blanket so that I didn’t have to see it. 

Since governments started stressing the importance of staying at home, I’ve been thinking about what it would be like not to have one during a global pandemic. In most countries, if you go outside and fail to practise physical distancing, you’re now subject to fines or imprisonment. So what do you do if you don’t have a home to live in or if your home isn’t safe? 

Statistics show that, while there have been fewer driving infractions, domestic complaints have climbed significantly in Canada. The United Nations is calling for governments around the world to make “the prevention and redress of violence against women a key part of their national response” to COVID 19.  

“For many women and girls, the threat looms largest where they should be safest — in their own homes,” says UN chief António Guterres. “We know lockdowns and quarantines are essential to suppressing COVID 19. But they can trap women with abusive partners. Over the past few weeks, as economic and social pressures and fear have grown, we have seen a horrifying global surge in domestic violence.”

The Yukon government will be giving cellphones with a four-month service plan to women living in vulnerable situations. In France, women can use code words at pharmacies to ask for help in order to escape domestic abuse.

People experiencing homelessness are among the most vulnerable. In Las Vegas, officials painted white boxes six feet apart for them to sleep in; in Ontario, cities such as London are using hotels to free up space in shelters for physical distancing and to isolate those most at risk. 

“They’re for the COVID-vulnerable population,” said Craig Cooper, manager of homeless prevention, at city hall. “That would be seniors, people that have a medical condition, a heart or respiratory issue.”

And what if you do have a home but happen to live in a dense community such as Kibera, Kenya, where 50 to 150 people can share one pit latrine and where clean water is at a premium? What does physical distancing and staying at home look like?  

This pandemic has underscored the truth that access to safe housing is a human right.

So while I am stressed about moving during a global pandemic, I am aware of my privilege: I live in the GTA. I have access to clean water, so I can wash my hands whenever I need to. I don’t have to make the decision to choose my health over something to eat or a place to live. 

And though I’m not sure how I’m going to be able to pack, work from home, and homeschool my children within the next few weeks, I am thankful to have access to Wi-Fi and a home computer.

I realize that, once we move, it might be challenging to get this same Wi-Fi connected at our new place. Will we be able to get someone to come to our new home to connect the service? And how will we move? The government has classified movers as an essential service, but I worry about getting exposed to the virus, and I also worry that I might expose someone else to it. 

In the best of times, moving is one of the most challenging and stressful endeavours. But what’s keeping me up at night isn’t the move itself — it’s the possibility that something will go wrong in the next few weeks or even days. Getting laid off, getting sick, my children getting sick: these are the scenarios I can’t shake. When it comes to COVID-19, there are so few things we can control. Yes, you may be bored from having to stay home, but if you have a safe place to live, count yourself lucky. There are many who would want to be in your shoes.

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