By Lisa Assenmacher, Communications & Training Specialist

522. This is the number of families in the Detroit area that have fallen into homelessness and have since found furnished housing since 2009 with the assistance of Humble Design, a nonprofit organization based in Pontiac.

I listened to Treger Strasberg, one of the founders, talk about her work at the Building Michigan Communities Conference in April, and it made me think about CEDAM’s membership with the gamut of supportive housing- and community-related programs intertwined with empathy, education and support to advance self-sufficiency and empowerment. I’m always amazed when I discover how these pieces of the puzzle relate and work together for something much more impactful.

What must it be like to be homeless?

The harsh reality of life exposes us to illness, adversity and challenges that change the way we empathize with one another and interpret the world. Without having either experienced it personally or indirectly through those we meet, it’s not quite understood just how vulnerable, insecure, scared, hungry or lonely a person’s existence feels for them. Vulnerable populations often lack support to prevent a crisis from devastating their lives, and often rely upon themselves.

Beyond survival, it is unlikely that a homeless person even considers any type of luxury a possibility, and it is very likely that they may not understand how to plan for any next step to protect a repeat of this experience.

It’s an exhausting cycle of poverty that plagues millions of Americans.

Even after a person has found a place to live, the struggle continues.

Homelessness and access to affordable housing are consistent problems in Michigan. State and federal programs are continually at risk and the decreasing available funds are more difficult to obtain. The bigger picture understands that helping people transition into safe and affordable housing is the primary priority.

However, what are we doing to help build a sense of place and stability and keep people in those homes once they have found them?

What will end the cycle of homeless?

Organizations across Michigan have created inventive programs to empower people and assert them into the lives they want to lead rather cycling through this endless struggle and feelings of desperation. These programs address the concept of change through education and ongoing support and include skill development, mental health programs, financial literacy and others.

Further, establishing a sense of place and security only begins with a roof over their head. Furniture and other details together create a home and help to form a psychological connection with a place along with feelings of ownership, reliability and commitment.

Imagine if you and your family were living in an empty home, sleeping on the bare floor. It’s the type of situation most of us don’t even think about.

Families transitioning from homelessness into housing often move in with just their selves and lack anything other than basic furniture or possessions to create a comfortable home.

Now imagine the child’s sense of security, stability and safety, and consider the parent(s) perspective on trying to both make ends meet and be the anchor that the family needs. Many times, there just aren’t enough resources for everything to work out.

The imbalance between what is feasible and what is required continues to grow, heightening the feelings of hopelessness and disconnection for filling the voids. And, in these vulnerable situations, all it takes is one crisis for the pieces to fall.

That’s where all of the wonderful organizations, funders and volunteers come in.

With the identification and integration of these programs implemented across the state, these overlooked aspects can help add to the support network that will keep people in their homes and become self-sufficient and successful.

One such organization is Humble Design.

Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 1.59.40 PMSharing a similar story to many who start an initiative, a friend struggling with a problem and an opportunity to help changed the way founders Ana Smith and Treger Strasberg looked at unneeded furniture.

Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 1.06.34 PM
Humble Design Founders Treger Strasberg and Ana Smith

It provided insight into understanding the real conditions faced by those transitioning from homelessness. They also saw the positive psychological effects related to the perception of moving into their new home rather than a space that feels temporary, cold and insecure.

From that point on, Humble Design was born and has grown into a fully functioning nonprofit organization with a flowing supply chain process implemented by staff, volunteers and funders. They formed partnerships with affordable housing and social services organizations to get referrals for families ready to transition. Beyond collecting and storing furniture, the designers at Humble Design carefully coordinates homes for each family and sets it up for them.

522 families have benefited from the work done by Humble Design at the time of this article. Some of them are children receiving their own bed for the first time. Others are simply relieved they don’t have to think about yet another thing that’s out of reach. While every story is different, each one was grateful for the support and sees this as an opportunity for a new life.

Every person stands the chance to break their cycle of insecurity and instability because of the supportive programs that exist to provide education and empowerment.

The next time you drive past furniture on a curb, think about how something seemingly so insignificant can change a person’s perception and direction of their life.

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