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Furniture increases success of newly housed families

When a homeless family moves from a shelter to an affordable apartment or house, having basic household furnishings increases their chance of success, said Sheila Morley, program coordinator at Catholic Charities of Spokane.

Ashley Sprecher / Sheila Morley
Ashley Sprecher and Sheila Morley show an example of a couch in good condition for families.

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.  Basic needs such as a bed, couch, table, chairs, dishes, bedding and towels make a difference in people’s lives,” said Sheila, who also coordinates programs and staff at St. Margaret’s Shelter.

A single disabled person receiving $339 a month on General Assistance for Unemployed (GAU) or a family with children living on $500 a month on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) would not have enough money to buy furniture.

“We found that just putting people in housing was sometimes not enough.  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.  If people come from a shelter where their basic needs are met, it is not reasonable to expect them to succeed in housing without those basic needs,” she said.

Volunteers delivering furniture to one woman saw a blanket on her floor where she had been sleeping while waiting for furniture.

“For donors, it’s the green thing to do to recycle furniture, rather than having it end up in a landfill,” Sheila added.

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 in 2009 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.  Since then, St. Margaret’s Shelter surveyed Spokane Homeless Coalition agencies to assess the need for such a program.   Their goal is to have 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 their basement to give to women as they moved out.

Sheila, whose office is at St. Margaret’s, said they found many agencies lacked the capacity 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, the warehouse’s agency 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 then developed bylaws and policies and found a temporary site in a 2,300-square-foot space through the YWCA, a partner agency. 

Ashley Sprecher
Ashley Sprecher at the furniture warehouse

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 72 households, said Sheila.

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 email Ashley, who sets a delivery date and arranges volunteers to help move the furniture.

Case managers with the different agencies follow up with the clientele, who earn from 0 to 30 percent of area median income.

“When we drop off the furniture, people are excited and happy,” said Sheila, who began working with homeless families in Spokane when she served as coordinator for her church, Prince of Peace Lutheran, when they sheltered families through Interfaith Hospitality. 

She worked for Interfaith Hospitality from 2002 to 2005, then with Spokane Valley Community Center until 2007 when she began working at Catholic Charities.

Currently, the warehouse has use of the SNAP moving van on Wednesdays, so they schedule many deliveries and have volunteers all day on Wednesdays.

The program needs volunteers to receive items, clean them and deliver them.  Sheila said the warehouse also needs a truck and a permanent location. 

For information, call 624-9788 or email spokanecommunitywarehouse@gmail.com.