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4 min read

Staff Feature: What Turns “Shelter” Into “Home”?

Everyone needs a roof over their head, but is “home” something more than shelter? As we strive to reach all our neighbors experiencing homelessness, offering them a pathway to a better life, we seek to be increasingly aware of what ‘home’ means and how we can facilitate it at our Shelters and beyond. 

I’m not homeless. I have a place of my own where I can rest, eat, and be at peace apart from the busy world. But from my experience working at Union Gospel Mission and in my own life, I’ve noticed that most of us continuously try to create “home” based on what we lacked in early childhood, but inversely, based on what nurtured us as well. I asked myself and fellow staff members, “What did home mean to you as a child and how has that changed over the years?”


Jessica, Director of Marketing

My childhood family moved around quite a bit, mostly due to my father’s work. I lacked the stability of calling one place home and the opportunity to build long-term friendships and traditions. I learned to accept that things don’t stay the same, and to this day I simultaneously long for, yet resist, a commitment to people and places—like I’m ready to let go at a moment’s notice.

But, on the other hand, my mother and father were a consistent presence in the home. We maintained the value of eating meals together, praying as a family, and serving in our churches. But what I remember the most is how home always felt like home. My mother would decorate with dried flowers and vines, burn candles, hang clothes on a line, plant flowers, and feed the birds. She taught my siblings and I that we were worthy of receiving and creating beauty and peace.

Jessica Home A+B

My father had a steady, listening ear and calming routines of working in the yard, studying in his office and visiting with neighbors. He taught us that consistency of character is our gift to the world and each other. 

To me home—even if it physically changes—is made by my spirit and my perceptions. Maybe life will suddenly change, but who I am—who God says I am—stays with me from one place to another.

“Who I am—who God says I am—stays with me from one place to another.”

Marisa, Multimedia Production Assistant

Home was small, not that private—a shared ‘temporary.’ We always lived in apartments or duplexes or my grandma’s house. It wasn’t until my senior year that we moved into a house, but even then, it was a rental and small. Home felt safe if the doors were locked. Home was what my mom could afford for us. It wasn’t somewhere I wanted to bring my friends or my friends wanted to come. Family didn’t even come over; we always went to people. Home was a place for evenings and weekends. Not really cozy or fun. 

I still carry this mentality that “everyone” has a better home than me and people wouldn’t want to come to me. The house that I own still feels temporary even though I own it, it’s small and mostly safe. I do feel safer than I did growing up and there is more room/square footage and it is stable. I do invite people over and they say they like my house and I believe them, my house is cozy and fun, comfortable, and feels like the adjective home not just the noun.

Dan, Men’s Shelter Director

As a child, I grew up on the Spokane River in a park-like setting. I had two larger than life grandfathers, both living nearby. I learned to appreciate the outdoors, work ethic, the importance of saving, how a community works, and other key life skills. Home had meant particular places for me for a long time. I have now come to understand home as shelter and relationships. Shelter is important, I can’t feel or be safe without some security in my surroundings, warmth, and a place to rest, but the relationships are what truly make my home.

“I have now come to understand home as shelter and relationships.”

My grandparents are long since gone, and the people in my daily life have changed. I am in the middle of moving houses, but home is, and will be, where my people are, where they can find warmth, peace, and rest. My wife, my son, his children. Home takes self sacrifice. I have to save, work, repair, and clean house. And just as the physical shelter requires work, so do the relationships. I have to clean house in my own life—compromise, stay flexible, be in good spiritual health—only then can I be part of the healthy relationships, in a healthy maintained environment that I so deeply desire. That combination of well maintained physical shelter, and true community of close loving relationships is what home is to me.Dan McLellan

Sandra, Aftercare Coordinator

Home for me as a child was an 1899 stone colonial in a tiny, Pennsylvania canal town. The house was where I knew warmth, food, and care, and the whole village gave me love, belonging, and accountability.

The personal attention of extended community so powerful in my own childhood was absent in the organized activities we did with our kids as a family. They are far more cultivated as adults, but I wouldn’t trade the support I knew for anything. Today, my sense of home is as a retreat, a place to connect with God and myself, to be recharged for the work of life.

“Today, my sense of home is a retreat, a place to connect... to be recharged for the work of life.”


Caitlin, Ministry Advancement Coordinator

Home growing up for me often felt chaotic. I had parents who were separated from Kindergarten-Freshman year of high school, so it meant lots of back and forth and never feeling “at home” when we were at my dad’s. While I always felt loved and safe, things at the same time felt chaotic and unknown when it came to our schedule. I never had a strong desire to be at home growing up and would often find myself at friends’ houses, hanging out, and spending time at other homes.

How that has carried over into my adult life is an awareness I have now to want our kids to see our home as not only safe and where they feel loved and accepted, but calm as well.  I want our kids to want to be at home and want to be there with their friends. 


Next Monday morning at 10:00 on World Homeless Day, many of us will be meeting downtown—community members, staff, volunteers, and our friends from Hello for Good. We’re praying, handing out warming bags, and putting out a message that our neighbors on the streets don’t have to stay there. They have options. There are people who care. A home is possible, and it starts with relationships. 

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