Pathways to Housing
Stella arrived in Philadelphia with little more than the clothes she was wearing. Fleeing from domestic violence, she found safe haven in a Women Against Abuse shelter and assistance in finding a new home in this new city.
“I was starting from scratch,” she says. Her apartment was empty.
Philadelphia has made great strides in providing housing for people in need, says Pathways to Housing PA Executive Director Chris Simiriglia. But a home needs furniture. Until recently, housing assistance organizations scrounged for donations or spent scarce dollars on second-hand furniture. Precious staff time was wasted searching for free or affordable furnishings.
Just as troubling, the wait for furniture often kept people in shelter longer and strained the already-crowded emergency shelter network. While researching the issue, Simiriglia found that a family could spend as much as three additional months in a shelter while waiting for beds for their new home.
With assistance from The Barra Foundation, Pathways to Housing PA launched Philadelphia’s first furniture bank, which operates from a 20,000 square foot warehouse in Kensington. Furniture donations to fill the Philadelphia Furniture Bank come from individuals and organizations like universities and hotel associations. Nonprofit organizations serving people moving out of homelessness pay an annual membership fee to gain access to the new, coordinated system—saving them valuable time and money.
Stella was among its first clients. “I got a desk. I got a couch. I got shelves to put my books on. I’m a reader and that made my day,” she says. “I was coming out of a bad situation, and the Philly Furniture Bank made me feel like I had a place here.”
The furniture bank model is a familiar one in cities across the country, but Pathways to Housing PA has taken a decidedly tech-savvy approach, customizing software to organize donations, manage inventory, schedule volunteers and connect with clients. Stella learned about the Philadelphia Furniture Bank through her case manager at Women Against Abuse, who made an appointment online for Stella to meet with a Furniture Bank team member.
The ultimate goal: An efficient system that can serve upwards of 3,000 clients each year. “The Philadelphia Furniture Bank will be a success when people aren’t spending more time in shelters than they need to because of lack of furniture,” says Simiriglia. “It will be a success when no child is sleeping on the floor while waiting for a bed.”