Chicago Furniture Bank helps homeless families make a new home

Furnishing an apartment after being homeless is an obstacle for families who no longer have beds, chairs, and the household basics everyone needs to make a home.

CCH families at the Chicago Furniture Bank.

Chicago Furniture Bank helps families like these. Families have been referred by 150 partner agencies in the city and suburbs, including CCH, since the furniture bank opened its warehouse space last July at 4800 W. Roosevelt Road.

CCH Senior Organizer Keith Freeman was one of the first to bring homeless families to the furniture bank, says co-founder Griffin Amdur. Ten homeless leaders active at CCH have received furniture, with more than 550 families and 1,400 people helped to date, Amdur says.

“Families love it,” said Keith. “When they first move in, they walk into an empty space with only plastic bags of clothes. There’s literally nothing else in there. At the furniture bank, they can pick out all their furnishings, even picture frames, and within 48 hours have a furnished apartment.”

The furniture bank hopes to progressively expand operations so that it can grow from serving seven households a day to 10 families daily.

“We’re looking for volunteers,” said Griffin. “We’re looking for furniture donations and donations. We’re raising funds to buy a third truck and hire two more guys.”

The furniture bank now staffs 14 people, including 11 job-training graduates from Cara Chicago and Chicago CRED. Griffin started the non-profit with fellow University of Pennsylvania grads James McPhail and Andrew Witherspoon, assisted by a $100,000 award from Penn.

The furniture bank charges $50 for a family in need to select furnishings valued at $1,100, based on thrift store prices. About half their clients also contract to have their furniture delivered ($150 curbside, $250 in home). Some agencies assist clients with the fees.

Those donating furniture also pay $100 to $200 to have furniture picked up from their home. Pickups can be arranged using a form on the furniture bank website. 

It’s obvious how relieved and excited people are when they realize they can get a bed and the other things they need to make a new home. Organizer Bisma Shoukat says her leaders have fun testing sofas to find just the right one.

“It’s even sweeter when the kids are along. They get to pick out their own bedroom sets,” said Bisma.

Keith said he recently helped one of CCH’s Bring Chicago Home leaders, a man in his late 60s, pick out furniture for a new SRO apartment.

“He’s like another person now. He’s excited. His morale is through the roof,” said Keith.

– Photos by Keith Freeman & Bisma Shoukat

– Story by Anne Bowhay, Media

WTTW: New nonprofit gives old furniture – and people – second chances

Chicago Tribune, Mary Schmich: Three college grads – with a truck – want to send your old couch to the needy