When a homeless family moves from a shelter to an affordable apartment or house, having basic household furnishings increases their chance of success.
“We believe everyone needs to have a safe, secure, affordable home, and part of that is having furnishings and household items to make them feel comfortable,” said Sheila Morley, program coordinator at Catholic Charities of Spokane.
“Basic needs such as a bed, couch, table, chairs, dishes, bedding and towels make a difference in people’s lives,” added Morley, who also coordinates programs and staff at St. Margaret’s Shelter.
Seeking both to provide furniture to people and to help donors recycle “gently used” furniture and household items, 10 agencies formed the Spokane Community Warehouse last year as a drop-off location, storage space and pickup site for transporting furnishings to their clients.
Until it closed in 2008, St. Vincent de Paul Society provided that service. St. Margaret’s Shelter then surveyed Spokane Homeless Coalition agencies to assess the need for a central warehouse to receive donations and arrange deliveries.
Several agencies had tried to provide furniture on their own. St. Margaret’s kept donated furniture in its basement to give to women as they moved out.
Morley, whose office is at St. Margaret’s, said the survey found many agencies were unable to accept donations and deliver them to clients because of a lack of storage, transportation or staffing.
In a “leap of faith,” the Spokane Community Warehouse formed under Catholic Charities.
Nine other agencies have joined. Along with St. Margaret’s, members include the ARC of Spokane, Interfaith Hospitality, Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center, Salem Arms, Spokane County Community Services, Volunteers of America, Transitions, Coalition of Responsible Disabled, YWCA and Spokane Neighborhood Action Programs.
Organizational meetings began in January 2009, when participants proposed a budget and applied for an AmeriCorps member to help manage the program.
A Jesuit volunteer with St. Margaret’s visited the Portland Community Warehouse to learn about their operations. The planning group found a temporary site in a 2,300-square-foot space through the YWCA.
AmeriCorps member Ashley Sprecher began in September as manager of the Spokane Community Warehouse, working from an office at St. Margaret’s.
After it opened in mid-November, the warehouse offered membership to other homeless coalition agencies. Members pay $250 a year and refer clients. Member agencies also provide 24 hours of volunteer assistance a year.
So far, the warehouse has set up 83 households, said Morley. Member agencies send a case manager for training at the warehouse, so they know how to determine a client’s furniture and household needs.
They fill out a form and e-mail Sprecher, who sets a delivery date and arranges volunteers to help move the furniture. The warehouse has use of the SNAP moving van on Wednesdays, so many deliveries are scheduled then.
Case managers with the different agencies follow up with the clientele, who earn 30 percent or less of the local median income.
“When we drop off the furniture, people are excited and happy,” said Morley, who began working with homeless families in Spokane as coordinator for her church, Prince of Peace Lutheran, when it sheltered families through Interfaith Hospitality.
Volunteers delivering furniture to one woman saw a blanket on her floor where she had been sleeping while waiting for furniture.
“We found that just putting people in housing was sometimes not enough,” Morley said. “If people do not have the basic necessities – a bed to sleep on, something to sit on and items for cooking – they are not able to retain the housing.”
And, she added, “For donors, it’s the green thing to do to recycle furniture, rather than having it end up in a landfill.”