There’s a particular feeling of comfort when we return to a place we call “home,” but I think home is most noticeable in its absence. We orient ourselves to that place even when we’re not there. “Home is a place so profoundly familiar you don’t even have to notice it. It’s everywhere else that takes noticing,” Verlyn Klinkenborg wrote in a Smithsonian Magazine essay.
Although Klinkenborg’s writing typically meditates on rural life, his thoughts on home and “not-home” resonate for experiences of homelessness in both city and country. Homelessness is a defining challenge of our society, with millions of women, children, and men living in temporary shelters or no shelter at all. The causes are myriad and long-term solutions are elusive, but along with the physical hazards, people dealing with homelessness often need comfort and support to help them get back on their feet.
A group of heroes are stepping up to this crisis: librarians. In cities and rural communities, libraries have become an oasis for people who need a hand, a computer, or a seat to rest in. Washington State University alumni librarians like Linda Johns at the Seattle Public Library, Tara Murphy in Philadelphia, and Sarah English in Colville lead the way in finding innovative support.
People who are homeless also find comfort, as many of us do, in their pets. The costs of keeping dogs and cats healthy can be prohibitive, so WSU veterinary students provide free clinics in Spokane and Seattle. In a unique partnership with veterinary medicine, nursing students—WSU students in Spokane, and University of Washington students in Seattle—also give checkups for the people when they bring in their pets.
Many of us also think of the Northwest as a familiar home. Yet we can gain a lot of knowledge from sustained and intense observation of Puget Sound and other well-known places. The WSU environmental field station at Meyer’s Point near Olympia offers researchers a place to deeply explore the urban-rural interface, history, and changing ecological spaces.
Our idea of home has shifted internally, as well. When people use computers in libraries or residences, they find digital homes. Does that replace community? Technology industry leaders, including WSU alumni Steve Wymer and Rajat Taneja, tackle these and other questions about the role of social media and technology.
Speaking of social media, we recently welcomed a new associate editor to the magazine team: Adriana Janovich, an experienced journalist who brings fresh ideas and energy as she leads our social media efforts and alumni section.