The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us so many lessons about what matters most in life. Don’t we have a richer, deeper appreciation of the importance of human connection, good health, and basic safety and security? How many of us have reflected on the fact that we have the means to shelter in place? This week we hear from Vanessa Volz, who reminds us that chief among what matters most right now is a safe place to call home.  

Vanessa Volz is executive director of Sojourner House, an agency dedicated to addressing issues of domestic and sexual abuse.

As a new attorney, one of the most frightening places you can find yourself in is the courtroom on behalf of a client who desperately needs your help.

That’s exactly where I was one spring morning over a decade ago, my law license not even a year old, clutching my client’s file closely to my chest and mentally reviewing the specifics of the case.

My client was about to be evicted from her apartment. I had filed a motion to dismiss the eviction, calling for a reasonable accommodation in light of her mental health issues, which frequently made it difficult for her to perform essential daily tasks, like paying her rent on time.

If she was evicted, I feared the worst for her. At least now she had her own apartment. If the property management company succeeded in evicting her, she would likely be out on the streets or in a shelter, since her only form of income was social security due to her disability.

Opposing counsel narrowed his eyes and nearly hissed at me as we approached the judge’s bench when our case was called. “We want her out,” he said through clenched teeth.

After listening intently to our arguments and asking a clarifying question, the judge quickly granted my motion. “Next case!”

Success! My client would be allowed to stay in her unit, and she still had a place to call her own -- at least for now.

The work as I did as a young attorney defending clients from housing evictions left an indelible impression on me. As I transitioned from the practice of law into the role as the executive director of Sojourner House, a domestic and sexual violence agency, I have continued to work to ensure that permanent housing, and not just supportive services, are available as a resource to the families we serve.

Through my work, this has become very clear to me: it is impossible to move forward with any other aspect of your life if you don’t have safe, secure housing.

I firmly believe that everyone deserves to have their own home – not just a shelter bed, or a shared room in a congregate setting; but, rather, their own home.

Without a home, it’s nearly impossible to hold down a job or search for one.

Without a home, it’s nearly impossible to create a stable, nurturing environment for your children.

Without a home, it’s nearly impossible to have hope.