The Difference Between “Houseless” and “Homeless”

By U-EXPLORE Instructor Nick McEachern

Last summer when I was walking on a street in Christchurch, New Zealand, I was solicited by an organization to have them come into my house and test my drinking water. I told them I did not have a house and to not bother soliciting my friend either. At the time, I was living in a legendary Toyota Hiace that was five years older than me and had flames painted on the side of it. Of course, there was no running water other than a pump sink that we filled up at campgrounds and restaurants. I won’t say that the van smelled like flowers. Nonetheless, it dawned on me at that exact moment that there is a significant difference between being houseless and homeless and the place(s) we call our home vs the place(s) we call our house.

A house needs to have walls and a roof. Many of them in my part of the world have a bed, a couch, and hot water. In my twenties and somewhat fancy free, I cannot even imagine the burden it would entail to be a houseowner. I am certain that a portion of the time I spend in the outdoors with my friends would have to go to things like chopping wood, shoveling snow, mowing grass, paying a mortgage, and fixing my leaky roof. I’d rather not do any of those things for a long time and continue following my friends up moderate trad climbs, getting my butt kicked on a trail run, and floating through powder on my skis.

The average person only has one house. I currently do not have any. Sure, I have a basement apartment which I rent from a nice lady named Phyllis. I do not own it though. And I believe I am one of the most fortunate people in the world because I call numerous places my home. I have been blessed to live and visit diverse locations around the country and the world. I have homes in all of these locations. In Maine, there is an island I visited with my summer camp when I was very young. I view it as home. In Vermont there is a basement of a college residence hall with a bouldering cave. I sleep there from time to time and it will always be a home of mine. I lived on a friend’s couch in Bend, OR for a week. That seemed like home. As did my other friend’s extra bed in Teton Valley and a former professor’s paco pad in Salt Lake. I could go on and on. There was the time I slept in my friend’s van at a truck stop outside of Denver. A home can be mobile, temporary, and doesn’t need to have walls or a roof. I have a friend who considers a bivy spot next to a lake in New Hampshire to be his home. Our favorite homes aren’t always houses. Perhaps yours is a group cooking tent at the base of Denali. Maybe it’s the bed of your buddy’s Ford Ranger.

A big part of what makes a place feel like home is the people there. I would also add that the quality amount of food at a place contributes to its homeiness. I have learned that when I return to a place where I once lived, it feels like coming home. This is mostly due to the fact that so many people had never left. It’s an excellent sensation and it makes returning just as special as leaving. Wherever your home is, I hope it is filled with amazing people in an amazing location.

I realize that at some point in my life, I will have a house. When that time comes, I invite you to come over and stay on my couch for however long you want. I’ll put something in the crock pot and hopefully you can call my house your home.

Nick McEachern is a graduate student in the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism and an instructor for U-EXPLORE.  He has been published by Adventure Journal and will, someday, decide on a topic for his thesis.  

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