To someone who was recently homeless, furniture is a problem to solve.
“When they finally get back on their feet … we’re the last stop,” Walpole’s New Life Home Refurnishing president and co-founder Ron Yates said, “because they have no furniture.”
The idea for New Life came from an Acton nonprofit, Household Goods Recycling of Massachusetts, that runs a very similar model, and where Yates had been volunteering with his wife. Both groups operate on donations and volunteer work.
“I think it’s an incredible resource,” said Dawn Alcott, director of Medfield Youth Outreach, another of New Life’s referral agencies. “What incredible people, what an incredible spirit of volunteers who have come up around this program.”
Yates co-founded New Life Home Refurnishing with fellow businessman Doug Marshall three years ago. Clients must be referred to the nonprofit, usually through social service agencies or local clergy, and the staff at New Life helps them fill their new home with furniture and other household items free of charge. The group helped 353 households last year, and expects to exceed that number by more than 100 this year.
“They’re amazing,” Pine Street Inn Program Director Leo Adorno said, of the Walpole organization. “It is nice when you have individuals like the volunteers at New Life that go above and beyond to help people with the respect and dignity they deserve.”
Pine Street Inn, a Boston nonprofit focused on ending homelessness, is one of New Life Home Refurnishing’s referral agencies. Adorno called furniture a “major piece of the puzzle” in helping people who were recently homeless.
“You don’t want to put somebody in housing in an empty apartment,” Adorno said. “It is not good a feeling.”
The New Life Home Refurnishing warehouse, located just off Walpole’s main drag, contains an ever-changing stockpile of furniture. Clients are taken through each room to pick out the items they need based on their new home. Showrooms contain everything from the bigger basics, such as beds, tables, bureaus and couches, to the smaller essentials, such as dishes, cookware, lamps and wastebaskets.
“They’re so thankful, for every little help,” Kathy Strickland, administrative assistant for donor inquiries and volunteer coordination at New Life said, of the nonprofit’s clients. “To be able to shop for free with dignity for an hour is really great.”
A row of wall art hangs on three walls above the living room furniture available, emphasizing that the warehouse is full of items aimed at making a home.
“We’ve seen all kinds of scenarios through this office, but moving from a shelter, somebody basically needs everything,” Alcott said.
Alcott, who refers Medfield residents in need, recalled a school-age child who told her what it was like to have furniture in his house, and how he didn’t feel uncomfortable having friends over anymore. She remembered a single mother for whom living room and dining room furniture was “beautiful.”
“For (her) and her young child, coming from a situation where she didn’t have anything, where they were sitting on the floor in her living room, to have a soft squishy couch made that apartment a home,” Alcott said.
Yates remembers his first client, a grandmother in Medfield who didn’t have a bed, and was sleeping on the floor. He pointed out that while the bulk of his clients are from out of the area, typically Boston, 10 percent are local.
“We’re living in an affluent area and we don’t expect to find homeless people here,” Yates said.
He and Alcott said the area’s homeless are often people in overwhelming circumstances, such as unexpected and devastating illness, sudden job loss, fires or floods.
New Life Home Refurnishing accepts donations of furniture and other household items in good condition. It has very strict quality standards, and does not accept mattresses, which have to be bought new – and needs volunteers to move, inspect and clean furniture throughout the week.
The nonprofit is almost always in need of bureaus, staff said.
Go to www.newlifehr.org/volunteernewlifehrorg to volunteer, and to learn more.