As adults, we all know how expensive it is to furnish a house. Even the necessities are enough to put you out of pocket by thousands of dollars, and that is just to fill the house, let alone make it a home with your style.
Georgie Smith and her wife Melissa Goddard have owned a home in Idyllwild for 20 years. Smith and I spoke over the weekend about the 501(c)(3), A Sense of Home, she founded five years ago.
The concept for A Sense of Home is to prevent homelessness by creating first-ever homes for young adults coming out of the foster care system using donated furniture and home goods. They provide everything from furniture and home goods to linens and appliances, even organic groceries and meal prep help.
“We typically go in with about 20-25 people with all donated stuff and furnish their space in about 90 minutes,” Smith said. “With social distancing, we are having to adjust how we deliver, but we’re getting creative to make it work.”
What began as one person needing help has turned into a conglomerate of volunteers, big hearts and lots of donations to help those in need.
“It began after this young guy out of foster care — who was associated with the nonprofit Foster Care Counts where I was volunteering — reached out and asked me for help and it kind of didn’t stop,” Smith said. “His friends then started asking me for help. I realized there was a void and huge need to help youth coming out of the foster care system. Many are living out of trash bags, pulling mattresses from the streets and eating out of cans.”
According to A Sense of Home’s website and Foster Focus Magazine, 50% of those struggling with homelessness are former foster care youth and 65% of those leaving foster care need immediate housing. Individuals who spent time in foster care are more likely to become homeless at an earlier age and remain homeless for longer periods.
Smith started educating herself about how other countries have found success in battling homelessness. “What I discovered was that in Europe furniture was a weapon against homelessness,” she said. “They discovered that if you put people into an empty apartment or house, they would end up back on the streets. So, furnishing it was a form of homeless prevention.”
With only six employees, A Sense of Home is widely run by volunteers. Smith is now working to create a platform to inexpensively and efficiently get furniture and other household items where they’re most needed.
“We are creating an app to get out to communities so they can service the most in need within their community,” said Smith. “What we found is that the volunteer experience is so healing for everybody. So as much as this serves those in need in the community, it also serves the community as a whole. I see it as an opportunity for a healthier community.”
A Sense of Home receives high-quality furniture and household goods donations from companies like Ashley HomeStore, Casper, Puma, Lamps Plus, Snap Inc., hulu, and many more large companies and individuals alike.
“We did three deliveries on April 23 and one of the girls explained how she felt heard, safe, and that for the first time in her life, that she mattered in the world,” said Smith.
This young woman grew up in foster care, was sold into sex trafficking, and now in her late 20s, she’s in her first apartment and going to school to get her Bachelor of Arts in psychology.
“We give them quality items that can last a long time, and it’s one less thing they have to worry about it,” Smith said. “These are hard-working people, but they’ve got no one to source furniture from.”
While there are no foster youth programs in Idyllwild that I’m aware of, there are people in different circumstances that could benefit from a similarly modeled program as well as opportunities to help. With the app that Smith is now testing and wanting to get out to communities all over the world, the possibility for such a program could make its way to Idyllwild in the future.
In the last five years, A Sense of Home has furnished 550 homes for former foster care youth with the help of volunteers and donors. If you’re interested in learning more about A Sense of Home, you may visit https://asenseofhome.org/.