Karen stood over the rocking chair I had motioned her to see. “This is nice,” she said, tapping it slightly with her hand to see how it moved. She paused and looked at the chair intensely, crossing her brow. “Okay, yeah. I’ll take that, I guess.” Nonchalance is Karen’s signature: the time I brought her some donated housewares, among which was a collection of jars for the kitchen, she acted like she might take them out of the box, one day… if she got around to it. When I returned to her new home just a few days later I found each jar filled with different items and displayed along her countertop.
As we continued to move through the furniture warehouse at Crisis Assistance Ministry a couple of weeks after the jars incident, I studied Karen picking the furniture that would fill her new home. From the mattress to the kitchen table set, from the dresser to the coffee table, I watched as her usual stoic demeanor was slowly overtaken by a bit of excitement, talking – albeit matter-of-factly – about where she envisioned putting the pieces she picked out or that the chairs would look nice with the table. Then came the first request I ever got from Karen: “Can I get a lamp?” She immediately found the one she liked and we took it to show my co-worker, Janetta. “I like that lamp, Karen!” Janetta said with her usual double exclamation points-level enthusiasm. “Yeah, me too. It’s ‘antique-y,’” Karen replied in her usual practical manner. Karen’s new items were piled into the moving truck we’d rented for the morning. The lamp rode with us in the car.
The same furniture bank where Karen found furniture essentials to make four walls and a roof her home currently needs items such as dressers, kitchen tables and chairs, and sofas. Crisis Assistance Ministry relies on the community for the furniture it provides to our neighbors; without donations there would be no furniture to give the newly housed neighbors we serve.
The role of furniture in the housing journey is critical for someone transitioning from “homeless” to “housed.” Leaving an environment you have known can be emotional, overwhelming, and stressful – even when you are leaving a life on the streets to live somewhere we would say was luxurious by comparison: indoors. Living on the streets requires someone to adapt and learn certain skills to meet basic needs, and when someone moves indoors they must adapt and find new ways to meet their needs. Successful adaptation to this new environment can hinge on having the tools to adjust. A mattress, a table and chairs, a place to store belongings and clothing, a shower curtain to bathe, and utensils to cook and eat food – all are essential to setting into a new home. I know how valuable these items are to me when I move, and I have far fewer barriers to adjusting than someone who is living into a home for the first time in years.
A newly housed neighbor, Fred, helped me understand how precious furniture is in the transition from homelessness. He told me the few weeks he went without furniture he felt like he was “sneaking” into his house every night. In reality, being “housed” wasn’t quite the build-up he had thought it would be; without anything in his house, it didn’t feel like a ‘home.’ It makes me sad to think about Fred waiting months to finally be told he would get a home and then he works with his caseworker to find a place and then he signs the first lease he’s signed in a decade and then he moves in and then… it feels like life before. Discomfort, loneliness, struggle to meet basic needs – the same familiar feelings just have a roof over them now.
The furniture and housewares aspects of someone’s housing process are often overlooked and undervalued, yet they are some of the easiest needs to meet. Compared to filling out housing applications and finding the right supportive program and physical housing for our clients – a process that can take months, even years to do – making sure someone has furniture and housewares is simple! Crisis Assistance Ministry’s furniture need can be solved by our community. Individuals who donate gently used furniture items play a huge part in helping someone adjust to housing. As for housewares, the Welcome Home Kits initiative has been quite successful thanks to a wonderful response from the community. We are so grateful – and so are the recipients! – for the many people who donated Kits. We are currently able to meet the demand of Kits, and hope they will continue to come in on a consistent basis as we continue to house more homeless individuals.
The Charlotte community is taking big steps to house people experiencing homelessness. With continued community support, we can make sure our newly housed neighbors have a successful start. For more details on Crisis Assistance Ministry, please visit: http://www.crisisassistance.org/donate-furniture-and-appliances/ways-to-give/. For more details on the Welcome Home Kits: Welcome Home Kit Instructions and Checklist.