For people and families transitioning out of homelessness, basic comforts like furniture can prove an immense financial burden. Since 1989, The Sharehouse program has helped alleviate that by providing thousands of families with furnishings and other necessities that save on moving expenses.
YWCA Seattle will close The Sharehouse at the end of June. The announcement was made through a brief notice that cited “a strategic assessment of all YWCA Seattle/King/Snohomish programs and budgets.”
The Sharehouse was run by the Church Council of Greater Seattle for 24 years before the YWCA took over in 2014. The announcement to shut down the program follows the YWCA’s decision in January to relinquish responsibility for Dress for Success Seattle, a program that provides professional clothing and support to women.
The Sharehouse is a unique enterprise for the Seattle area in that delivery is included, in contrast to sources like Goodwill that require transportation on the part of the resident.
“Our social workers and case managers use The Sharehouse nonstop,” said Sharon Lee, executive director of the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI). “It’s very disappointing to see that it’s being closed.”
LIHI provides assistance to low-income, homeless and formerly homeless people by way of housing and programs that encourage stability and self-sufficiency.
Lee said LIHI offered to take over The Sharehouse as a last resort if the YWCA was ever unable to continue operation, and that the closure announcement came as a surprise.
Funding for programs such as this comes from Seattle’s Human Services Department. The department had budgeted $116,000 to operate the program in 2017. With the YWCA ending the program, the city funded $58,439 from January to the end of June. The remaining budget balance goes back to the city’s fund balance, department spokesperson Meg Olberding said.
YWCA Seattle declined to comment on the closure.
Because furniture is so often discarded or sold, Lee described it as a “green industry” and said The Sharehouse model is an excellent way to take advantage of such an abundant and recycled resource.
“The city should be investing in this,” Lee said. “Why do you want all that furniture to go to the dump, or to go to people that don’t necessarily need it?”
Lee said there is nothing else like it in Seattle but knew of similar programs in Tacoma and Detroit.
Rex Hohlbein — executive director of Facing Homelessness, which is dedicated to changing the societal perceptions of homelessness — said successful transitions out of homelessness have two important factors: a sense of community bonds and the personal touches.
The Sharehouse touches on both of those aspects, as furniture donation allows community members to more directly involve themselves in the process.
“We think of moving indoors as creating a home,” Hohlbein said. “Furnishings and relationships are really two huge parts of that.”
Hohlbein said that while basic necessities like furniture hold an important value that should not be understated, their cost is rarely the deciding factor in one’s ability to transition out of homelessness — a sentiment echoed by Mark Putnam, director of All Home, King County’s coordinating body to combat homelessness.
“I would say that for most people, the biggest barrier is the cost of housing or maybe some credit or criminal or rental history that needs to be discussed,” Putnam said. “I’ve never heard of somebody not moving into housing because they needed a mattress.”
Holhbein said hardships will likely fall upon those who have used or were hoping to use The Sharehouse and now have to search for new resources.
Lee said she has seen many families make the transition into housing only to end up living without chairs or beds for extended periods of time. She said it is because of this that LIHI makes a point to utilize The Sharehouse.
“Their level of misery and hardship goes up when they have nothing to sleep on and no place to sit down,” Lee said. “You don’t want to be spending money that you need to spend on rent and food.”
Hohlbein said that transitioning out of homelessness is missing fulfillment it deserves when a house does not become a home.
“If you don’t have those furnishings and you don’t have those connections of friendship, moving indoors is a little bittersweet,” he said.
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