While government statistics in the U.S. show an overall decline in the number of homeless families, it’s no secret that living in temporary housing takes a toll on families. Children are cut off from schools and neighborhood friends. Parents – typically women – are removed from employment opportunities as well as family and social support networks. And there may be violence or drugs at the shelter.
And this is not just a U.S. problem. Data from the UK and Canada suggest an actual increase in the number of homeless families there as well.
What can be done? Obviously, action by governments at all levels is critical. But there is a clear need for direct involvement by community and nonprofits, at both the national and local level.
Take the partnership between the Junior League of Detroit and a Detroit-based organization called Humble Design.
What’s fascinating about JLD’s involvement is that it is both hands-on – as so many League initiatives are – but also potentially far-reaching as a way of helping to transition families out of homeless and abuse-protection shelters.
Humble Design was formed in 2009 to assist homeless families transition from shelters into permanent, low-income housing. More than 800 families have been served since then.
Once a partnering agency makes a referral, Humble Design’s designers meet with the families to do a needs assessment and develop a client wish list. From there, the designers move swiftly to place the furnishings, toys, accessories and housewares; do any minor cleaning; and officially move the families into their new housing.
Where JLD comes in is in providing these families with some of the most essential independent living tools – kitchen tools and supplies that allow parents and children to cook healthy meals at home. This is part of a wider initiative that has JLD putting its resources into direct service and community partnerships to increase shopping, cooking, and food education programs in the Detroit community.
Since the fall of 2013, the JLD has donated 250 kitchen kits to families in need, at a cost of approximately $250 per kit. The kits include items like cookware; knives, utensil and measuring sets; a slow cooker and indoor grill; and bakeware and mixing bowls.
In August 2016, Humble Design gained an important corporate sponsor in U-Haul International. U-Haul provided a wrapped truck; self-storage space at U-Haul facilities; financial assistance; and an infrastructure that will enable Humble Design’s work to touch more cities. (Chicago was the first expansion program.)
How successful is the program?
Humble Design says the organization currently has the ability to assist up to three families a week from each location. But what really tells the story about the effectiveness of the Humble Design concept is this statistic: While up to 50% of those leaving homeless shelters typically return within one year, 99% of families who move into homes furnished by Humble Design don’t return to homeless shelters.
With the help of the U-Haul network across North America, Humble Design plans even more expansion. By 2020, it is anticipated nonprofit will have operations in an additional eight markets, including Seattle, Boston, Philadelphia, New York and other locations struggling with significant homeless populations.