A wall on a build site.

Coming full circle: A Habitat leader shares her story

The coronavirus pandemic has changed everything about the world as we knew it.

Families continue to cope with the loss of loved ones, of jobs, of stability. Many have deep feelings of uncertainty, of not knowing — for the very first time in their lives — if they will make ends meet. For many others, these feelings aren’t new. 

Although millions live in the chaos of housing instability and economic insecurity, it’s not always visible. People in survival mode develop extraordinary skills to mask their true circumstances. This was the story for much of my life.

My family averted housing insecurity during my childhood only through the generosity of extended family. In my youth, economic insecurity flooded lives in my small town when factories collapsed and fathers, like my own, lost their jobs.

Lynda Henriksen with a sign that reads "Habitat."

Later, during university, my world spun out of control. The trauma of an assault took a heavy toll. From the outside looking in, you might have seen a smart, sensible and independent young woman, but you would have missed how precarious life was. Suddenly nothing in my life felt safe. Not my home, my school or my job.

I sought escape. I couch surfed. I rebuilt my life in small steps. In my mid-twenties, a miracle happened — the birth of my daughter, a beautiful little girl. She changed everything.

I dared to dream of a bigger world again, one where I could give my child a safe place to live, a space where she could grow into all of her possibilities. But any seemingly small change for us would have caused a devastating domino effect of more misfortune. An illness, say, that led to unpaid time off and unexpected medical expenses. Today, in this new COVID-19 reality, there’s even deeper instability, the kind that threatens families’ abilities to survive and the next generation’s ability to thrive in the future.

As a young mom, my path was not smooth. I knew housing insecurity, but I know now that I never fully understood how much it was impacting every area of my life. It wasn’t until I joined Habitat for Humanity Brant-Norfolk and got to know homeowners that I realized their current struggles were once my own. Overcrowding, dishonest landlords, substandard living conditions, high rents, violent neighborhoods — all hurdles that can threaten your own well-being and the well-being of those you love and care for. All distraction from being fully present whether with family, at work or in your community.

“I’m finally able to step back and see the full role that substandard housing plays — even in my own story — in keeping people down and the role that decent housing can play in lifting people up.”
— Lynda Henriksen, director of communications and fund development, Habitat Brant-Norfolk

Now, years later, back in the small town of my childhood, I’ve come full circle. I’m finally able to step back and see the full role that substandard housing plays — even in my own story — in keeping people down and the role that decent housing can play in lifting people up. As Habitat Brant-Norfolk’s director of communications and fund development, I’m able to draw on my own experiences to help families find their footing.

I never planned to work for Habitat, and I certainly never planned to reveal my own story. But here I am. Asking others to trust us with their story seems very unfair, if I’m not willing to tell my own. So now, I have a request.

As you move forward into this newly changed world, I ask that you remember your own moments of instability. That you never forget the times your home served as your refuge – the only place where you could shield yourself from the outside world and its threats. 

And know that for many others home continues to be a place to escape from, not run to. For so many, volatility is daily life.

We need to not only remember and know this — we need to act.

Habitat’s path to homeownership can alleviate the constant burden that unaffordable and unsafe housing places on a family. It can literally be solid ground, a place for families to step into who they are and achieve the stability to lift others up — and stand alongside them. Through Habitat, even during a pandemic, we can invest in a solution as we partner with families to build resilience to weather hard times.

Just as stable housing did for me.

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