Turning empty houses into homes
Pamela stood in the doorway of her new apartment with two blue suitcases. At one point, not long ago, all she had fit into those two little cases on wheels.
She had been living out of her car until getting into St. Vincent de Paul’s Ozanam Manor, a transitional housing facility for people over 50, veterans and adults with disabilities. Pamela lived there for two years while regaining stability and eventually qualified for an apartment in a complex just outside of downtown Phoenix.
There was just one problem: She didn’t have any furniture or household basics. Like so many people freshly rehoused, Pamela would have faced an empty apartment and the burden of acquiring essentials if it weren’t for SVdP’s new program: Bringing Hope Home.
Bringing Hope Home comes in after SVdP case managers have helped secure housing for someone previously on the street or in a SVdP shelter. The program combines the resources and power of SVdP’s thrift stores and transportation team to set up the newly housed individual or family with household essentials and furniture, which SVdP delivers on move-in day.
“Bringing Hope Home literally helps finalize the rehousing process by furnishing that home,” said Mike McClanahan, the director of retail operations at SVdP.
On this day, it was Pamela’s scheduled move-in and chance to experience the magic of the program.
Mike and team developed the Bringing Hope Home program in the hopes of reducing the number of individuals or families returning to homelessness simply because they couldn’t overcome the large up-front costs that come with moving and acquiring furniture.
“If we didn't intervene, what would happen is that person would spend their first two or three paychecks just trying to get a bed or a couch for their family,” Mike said. “Now they don't have to worry about it, and that lifts a huge burden off that family.”
“We like to say that we turn houses into homes,” says Irma Leyendecker, SVdP’s director of mission advancement who teams up with Mike to help manage the program.
When the Bringing Hope Home first started, the team helped one individual or family each month. But the need for such a program and its success in easing the transition into housing became quickly apparent. Now it helps up to eight individuals or families per week.
SVdP case managers working with individuals and families in their rehousing pipeline refer guests to the program after they’ve helped establish housing for them. After receiving the referral, the Bringing Hope Home team coordinates a date with the guest to go to a SVdP thrift store and pick out new furniture and household essentials for their apartment.
Individuals are given up to $1,000 to spend in store, while families receiving up to $2,000. That money goes far thanks to the affordable thrift store prices. And the items aren’t beat up or on their last legs either. SVdP does quality control and requires gently used donations, so shoppers and guests of the Bringing Hope Home program are sure to get things in good condition.
“You got to give people a head start,” Mike said. “You have to get them in a situation where at least they have a competitive edge to stay ahead of [falling back onto the street]. And so that to me is in essence what it does.”
Mike said one of his favorite moments is when he sees the reaction on children’s faces when they realize they have a bed to sleep in.
“Because I've talked to kids, anywhere from six to 10 years old, and they've been sleeping in the car for the last six months to a year. They're finally getting a bed and they realize that's where they're going to sleep tonight, and they're jumping up on the bed because they're so excited,” Mike said. “You just tear up every time. They usually say, ‘Mommy, Daddy, I got my own bed! I got my own bed!’ Stuff that we take for granted but is so appreciated by an innocent child.”
Both Mike and Irma are reluctant to take much credit for the huge influence the program is having on many people’s lives. Irma sees the program as “a continuation of the work” SVdP provides for the community — just another step in the SVdP service journey.
“It’s not just us, it’s the org as a whole,” Irma said. “It's the Resource Center, the dining rooms, the shelters, everyone that is getting them housed. We're just a continuation of the work.”
Irma is even hoping to extend the support structure beyond move-in day to after a guest has been in their own place. She does her best to stay in contact with as many as she can, but she says there are so many successes now that it’s hard to stay in touch with them all.
Irma urges those interested in supporting the program to consider donating gently used household items, especially those home essentials ranging from furniture to pots and pans and bedding. And the same transportation team that helps on Bringing Hope Home delivery days is the exact same team who makes scheduled donation pickups possible.
“We have drivers that will go pick it up, and we have people that will bring it back,” Irma said, “And we'll get to give it a new home and a new life with a new family.”
Back at Pamela’s new apartment, the transportation team started hauling furniture inside. Only a few days earlier, she had shopped at SVdP’s Hope Chest Thrift Store to pick out some of the things she would need to make a new home — a bed, a couch, a wardrobe, some nightstands, a table and chairs.
Pamela looked up from her two suitcases and saw her apartment filled. She had a solid table to eat on, a place for her clothes, a couch to kick up her feet and a comfortable bed to rest and lay her head.
Pamela was home.
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