We started this research trying to find the meaning of HOME because we had been facing an “emotional HOMElessness” since moving to Münster, Germany. We thought we might find our answer in other international students at first. However, as we learned what HOME means to them, we realized this quest was deeper than finding the feelings, places and objects that make us feel at HOME.
Our issue wasn’t emotional HOMElessness; it was physical HOMElessness.
We constantly moved for the first eight months we lived in Germany, and our experience in this country is fragmented into pieces based on the number of beds we slept in. We stayed at 10 different places before finding stable accommodation—sometimes for a night, a week or even two months. We once thought we had found a place to call HOME in the beginning. However, it only led to a borderline illegal eviction notice, fighting with lawyers and resolving the resulting bureaucratic fallout. We later learned that this wasn’t the first time our landlord had done this to international students; we know of at least two others. After starting this project, we began hearing even more horror stories about landlords in Münster abusing international students’ naivety.
Like many other international students, we came to Münster to create a HOME and access better opportunities. Instead, we found ourselves facing hidden HOMElessness. HOMElessness is often perceived as a highly visible condition, and it is for many unhoused people. It’s like living in a museum display case for the outside world to observe you, to talk about you and to go home and forget about you.
However, HOMElessness is also a fluid experience: Unhoused people live in a variety of accommodation styles and the duration and frequency differ from person to person. The hidden HOMEless are those who only have access to temporary accommodation options; no permanent or stable housing is immediately available. They often sleep at friends’ or family members’ houses for a night here and a night there. Occasionally, they move into emergency shelters. The one thing most unhoused people have in common is that an initial event often leads to this instability—including injury, illness, job loss, mental health crisis and drug addiction. We only faced HOMElessness after migrating to Germany.
Germany’s HOMElessness is rising due to limited housing units and high rental prices—disproportionately affecting those in poverty and young people. Furthermore, people with a migrant background make up a significant percentage of the unhoused population. Our own experiences and those of our peers tell us that hidden HOMElessness is common among international students in Münster.
Studies show that young people facing hidden HOMElessness feel a loss of control and as if they are a burden to their family and friends. We also struggled to focus on school and maintain a steady job.
The first time it happens, it feels like an ad you can’t skip. It’s annoying, but everyone tells you it’s temporary and a part of life in Germany. The second time feels like a video with no translations—you don’t know what services you have access to because you can’t understand what’s happening around you. The third time feels like a video with broken audio. You’re lost and trying to figure out where the technical error occurred. The fourth, the fifth, the sixth, the seventh, the eighth, the ninth, the tenth… HOMElessness is disruptive. It’s disorienting. Chaotic.