For the past 15 years, Helping with Furniture has aided individuals and families in making a fresh start. Kita Szpak unpacks the story
For more than 15 years, Helping with Furniture has been helping local people in need — individuals and families, refugees, recent immigrants, and people relocating from shelters, leaving abusive situations, struggling with mental illness or at risk of homelessness — in the most basic of ways. The award-winning charity provides gently used furniture and household goods, refurbished bicycles, and laptops to help them make a fresh start.
Despite an ongoing pandemic (where operations were moved outdoors and furniture was taken out during the day for pickup and re-housed at night), Helping with Furniture (HWF) furnished 389 homes in 2020, an astounding 42 percent increase from 2019. This translates to a total of 1,003 local individuals helped by this organization — 31 percent more people than in 2019. Also, under HWF’s direction, 200 bicycles were regifted, and about 30 laptops, desktops, and tablets refurbished and donated. Technical support is offered for the now-usable equipment, with the added bonus of keeping electronics out of the landfill. The recycling of donated furniture, which would otherwise find its way to the dump, is also of double benefit: helping people and helping the environment: a win-win situation.
The outdoor arrangement of having families pick up their “new” furniture in inclement weather, could only be temporary for HWF’s expanding services. “We launched the #Space4HWF campaign in the fall to find a new, larger warehouse [at 1455 Michael St., Unit 3] to accommodate our expanded needs,” said HWF co-founder Nathalie Malone. She said the community “responded with incredible generosity. We couldn’t have come close to thinking we could take the leap if it wasn’t for your support.”
According to a 2021 Statistics Canada report, more than 235,000 people in Canada experience homelessness in any given year, and 25,000 to 35,000 people may be experiencing homelessness on any given night. Closer to home, Ottawa City Council declared a housing emergency in 2020 with over 12,500 individuals now waiting for subsidizing housing. The need to provide housing has grown enormously, and with it HWF’s mandate to furnish such accommodations for those less fortunate.
HWF works with social workers and sponsors from some 90-plus citywide organizations to identify those most in need. Every week the charity reaches out to eight to 10 clients most of whom have been referred through the Canadian Mental Health Association, the Pinecrest Queensway Community Centre, the City of Ottawa, the Catholic Centre for Immigrants, the Ontario Disability Support Program as well as a number of women’s shelters including Nelson House.
Though HWF is already well known for its work with refugees and immigrants with the most recent groups coming from Haiti, Burundi, Congo and Nigeria. Yet the organization’s 2020 Annual Report states that 64 percent of its clients have long lived in Canada, but struggle with mental illness, abusive situations or homelessness.
Madeline (whose name was changed to protect her privacy) arrived in Canada at 12 years of age from the Congo Republic in 2003, having been sponsored by her brother who was already living here. Her difficulties did not arise until after her marriage to a fellow Congolese in 2016. She describes an increasingly emotionally abusive situation which prompted her to flee to a shelter this past April with her two young children. A social worker put Madeline in touch with HWF. An apartment was acquired and then opportunity to choose furniture for it: bed, single bed, desk, TV and stand, study desk, blankets, sheets, towels, mirrors, lamps and a side table. Madeline and her children moved into their apartment on June 1, and less than three weeks later, thanks to HWF, their house had been fully furnished.
Madeline says she felt so safe going through the whole process that she has since started to volunteer with Helping with Furniture on Saturdays, to give back where she has received. Through all of this, Madeline passed her exams in first-year level of practical nursing program at Algonquin College.
“I would not have the confidence that I have right now, if it weren’t for Helping with Furniture,” she said.
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