The text Ruth Ann Logue received said simply: "I'm homeless." But those two words would inspire Logue and her friends to start House N2 Home, a charity that helps furnish the homes of people moving into permanent housing after a period of homelessness.
Logue and her family had been helping the woman who sent the text for a little over a year, providing clothing for her children, giving her groceries, or helping out during the holidays or back-to-school time.
"It was informal, just one family helping another family," Logue says.
The woman had been living with her sister, but was kicked out of the home. All her belongings were set out on the street when the woman's sister fell into depression after losing a baby to SIDS.
Logue helped the woman and her children find emergency housing through Alpha House, an interfaith organization helping Washtenaw County families experiencing homelessness. Logue's church friend David Raymond was on the board of directors for Alpha House and he connected the woman to an Ypsilanti rental home that his son-in-law had recently bought. However, the home was not in great shape.
To remedy that, a group of church friends got together to gut and remodel the home, with some of the volunteers putting in almost 40 hours a week. In about six weeks, the home was remodeled and completely furnished with donations from the group of church friends and their families and friends. The formerly-homeless family moved into the new home in February 2017.
The idea for House N2 Home grew out of that successful project. Volunteers have now furnished about 30 families' homes, mostly in Ypsilanti or Ypsilanti Township. Organizers hope to do more once they have secured their 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, now in the works.
It took some time for the idea to take root and gain momentum, though. It was almost a year after that first move-in when the Raymonds' son-in-law called Logue, saying he knew two more single mothers coming out of a shelter and asking if she'd be willing to coordinate a group to pull some household items together.
Logue said yes, and the group completely furnished two new rental homes in the course of one week. Then there was another lull until late in 2018, when Logue had a chance meeting with House N2 Home volunteer Peggy Farrell.
At that time, Farrell was nearing retirement and trying to decide what she wanted to do with her time. When she heard about the work Logue and her friends had been doing, Farrell knew she wanted to be part of it.
Farrell and her husband had owned a painting business that provided faux finishes and hand-painted furniture for over a decade, and this volunteer opportunity seemed like a perfect fit.
"This is my new job. It's the best job I've ever had, and the hardest," Farrell says. "We work our tails off. But these (volunteers) were so welcoming and so fun to work with, it's been a real joy."
After that meeting with Farrell, Logue sent out an email to friends who had helped with the first few furnishing projects, and says almost everyone she contacted was enthusiastic about doing more.
Because they already had contacts at Alpha House, they were able to sit down with that organization's executive director, Ellen Schulmeister. They asked Schulmeister to create a partnership through which Alpha House would refer families for House N2 Home's assistance.
Soon, Washtenaw County's domestic violence shelter, SafeHouse Center; and the Salvation Army's Staples Family Center were also sending referrals. Logue says she's excited that the organization has recently added the local Veterans Administration as another partner, and House N2 Home volunteers recently furnished rental properties for three formerly-homeless veterans.
Logue emphasizes that someone who needs a new couch or kitchen table can't just show up and ask for an item. House N2 Home's charitable work runs wholly through referrals from these agencies.
"We get contacted by a caseworker and they speak to the client to make sure the client wants the service," Logue says. "If they do, they give their phone number and name, and we meet with them in person, usually at their new digs so we can take measurements and figure out what they're bringing with them. Occasionally, they have a few items they were able to save from their former home, but it's rare. Usually they're coming to us with nothing."
Through donations and careful use of thrift shops, House N2 Home is able to provide everything a family needs to furnish a home, from plates and dishes to toys for children, from beds and couches to decorations for the walls. For each project, a different volunteer takes the lead to make sure all the items coordinate and look good together. Volunteers meet in the morning to fill up moving vans and personal vehicles with furnishings, and after the family vacates the premises, volunteers get to work, furnishing a typical apartment from top to bottom in an afternoon. The group also provides each family with a booklet of resources including local thrift stores and locations that serve free hot meals.
"It's amazing how friends give us things you would put in your own home. Beautiful pieces of furniture go into these homes," Farrell says. "We don't bring ugly, ever."
While that generosity benefits the clients who are referred to House N2 Home, it also meant that volunteers' houses and garages were soon bursting at the seams.
"Everybody's houses were jam-packed," Farrell says. "My basement and my guest room were filled with furniture and linens, and I was pushing my husband's patience to the max."
In another stroke of serendipity, Raymond, who is the director of planning for Trinity Health, offered the group a recently-vacated space on the campus of St. Joseph Mercy Hospital. Besides House N2 Home, nonprofits Catherine's House and Dress for Success also work out of the same building. Raymond says he hopes to soon find "a more suitable" location for House N2 Home that has a loading dock.
Logue says the group's name was inspired by the first single mother she helped, before House N2 Home had its name.
"That very first mom taught me so much," Logue says. "She had been homeless years before as a teenager. When she came out of the shelter, she said, 'I had a house, but I didn't have a home.'"
That single mom would look for furniture sitting on the side of the road and ask friends who owned cars to take her back to pick up used furnishings for her apartment.
"It struck me that the large majority of people we help are single moms, and they don't want to have their kids sleeping on the floor or have nowhere to eat dinner," Logue says. "That takes a lot of mental and emotional energy. You need to be worrying about making sure your children get to school and have hot lunches and are signed up for the programs they need, and not have to worry about the basics."
House N2 Home will not accept large cash donations until its 501(c)3 status is finalized, but donations of home furnishings in good condition are accepted, and the organization needs more volunteers who want to help with move-ins. More information is available at housen2home.org or by emailing email@example.com.
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All photos by Doug Coombe.