Washtenaw United: 'HouseN2Home'-Helping the homeless transition into housing by turning interior living space into a personalized home
ABOUT RUTHANN LOGUE:
RuthAnn Logue leads the executive team at HouseN2Home.
David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and we don't need to tell you the pandemic exacerbated a number of difficult community issues--among them housing and homelessness. I'm David Fair, and welcome to Washtenaw United. It's our weekly exploration of equity and opportunity in Washtenaw County. There's a unique local organization helping address these issues in a unique way: HouseN2Home. It's an Ypsilanti-located nonprofit, and its mission is to create spaces for people to thrive in. What all does that entail? Well, we're going to find out together. Our guest is RuthAnn Logue, and she leads the executive team at HouseN2Home. And thank you so much for making time today.
RuthAnn Logue: Thank you, Dave, for having me on. I really appreciate it.
David Fair: For those unfamiliar, at its most basic, how do you describe what HouseN2Home does?
RuthAnn Logue: HouseN2Home works with 25 local agencies, who are on the ground working to help people transitioning out of homelessness. Those agencies then refer those clients to us for services. We then interview that client, talk to them about what their new housing situation is going to be, what they need, and not just what they need, but actually what are some hopes and dreams they have for their new space. This can be anything from, you know, what's your favorite color? What are your kids like? Who are their favorite superheroes? Those things are going to show up in that new home, which, for some, is the first stable, secure home they've had in months or even years. We then set up a plan. We load up, drive over the items, we have a team of volunteers. They go in, set up their new home. So, it's all the furniture, all the household goods they would need, dishes, pots and pans, you know, everything you can imagine setting up your first new apartment.
David Fair: So, literally, turning a living space into a home that feels personal.
RuthAnn Logue: Exactly. So, that first night, we have prepared dinner for the family or the individual volunteers who bake homemade cookies. So, they get a cookie jar with homemade cookies and everyone gets fresh flowers. What are ways that we can say welcome home? And those are some ways that are sort of unique to what we do that say, "Here's your home. You don't have to think about dinner tonight. You've got some homemade cookies that you can enjoy. You've got fresh flowers." And those are just touches that are important.
David Fair: You know, it's a relatively new organization. So, as we look at the genesis of where it started to where it has come, at one point was it determined that this really needs to be an intensive and engaged and interactive service?
RuthAnn Logue: That's a really good question. We started very small, just a group of friends helping one single mom who was transitioning out of homelessness. A year later, her landlord actually called and approached me and said, "I've got two single mothers coming out of SafeHouse, victims of domestic violence that I'm going to rent homes to. Could you and your team work your magic?" And so, we did. And in the process, we realized there was a need in this community for something like this. And we approached the executive director at Alpha House and talked to her. And two weeks later, she called us with our first client. So, our first real client was March of 2019. So, yes, we are young. But that year, we did 31 homes. 2020 in the midst of a pandemic, we did 132. Then in 2021, we did 234. And we are on track to do 250 at least this year. So, we are just exploding.
David Fair: And, as I understand it, you're up to about 100 volunteers now that over the past year or two have contributed over 30,000 volunteer hours. That's quite incredible.
RuthAnn Logue: Yes. Yes. I just looked at my statistics this morning, and we've been tracking volunteer hours for 33 months, so a little over two and a half years. And we were up to 33,000 volunteer hours and 620 plus homes that we've done since we started in March of 2019.
David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU. And our Washtenaw United guest is RuthAnn Logue, and she leads the executive team at HouseN2Home. I don't need to tell you, Ruthann, but housing insecurity in and of itself is traumatic. But we know that many that endure periods of living in shelters and their cars have longer term and deeper traumas, too. It's difficult in the kind of work you're engaged in to avoid creating some bonds that go beyond the particular service. But a more personal investment in the well-being and improved outcomes starts to manifest. Do you find that some of your volunteers, and perhaps yourself, experience that with clients?
RuthAnn Logue: You know, that, occasionally, that will come up where we just have a client that needs a little more, and we can often point them to some other great organizations that are providing services. Food insecurity comes up, even though I do think Washtenaw County is doing a wonderful job trying to address that. Hope Clinic is an organization that we partner with to help provide groceries, so we can often point them in that direction. But, to be honest, totally honest, sometimes we just do need to step in, and it can feel a little messy, and it can be a hard at times. But there is so much trauma related to homelessness, and sometimes you just need someone who's really listening. Our greatest compliment is, "You heard me. You were listening when I told you that I loved the color red." And that's a great compliment to receive that we're listening.
David Fair: It is such a huge step forward as those who work with make the transition to an apartment rental, home, or other place to stay after that period of homelessness. And you have a warehouse full of goods that you can transport and assist that transition with. Where does all the furnishings and the household goods come from? None of that is cheap.
RuthAnn Logue: No. Well, we have an amazing relationship with Saint Joe Hospital in Ann Arbor. They have given us over 15,000 square feet of storage space on the campus of the hospital, and we lease that for $2 a year. We could not do what we're doing in this community without the partnership of Saint Joe in that space. But, honestly, this community has been so generous. We get donations most days of the week. One day of the week, we go pick up larger donations. I mean, one interesting thing is there seems to be enough--I want to say--extra things that people are no longer useful because they're downsizing, or maybe a parent has passed away, and they want to be able to use the furniture, you know, for good. We partnered this last year with five apartment complexes and seven sororities on U of M campus to get their castoff. We were able to get quite a bit. So, donations are coming in from all venues. And I tell people some things I really love about HouseN2Home--the number one thing--is the people, the people we serve, the people we serve alongside, which would be our agency partners and the caseworkers, and then the volunteers, who are amazing. The other thing is the planet. We honestly are reducing so much waste. We take things in that people are getting rid of, and, sometimes, those things are going to the landfill. So, I love that we can reduce and reuse items, and we have a whole team of people who can repair and paint furniture. We don't take, you know, furniture that's in bad shape. But if it's a piece of wooden, solid furniture that can be reused, we want to do that.
David Fair: As you look to how much it has grown since the first day client you served in 2019, how important is it going to be to expand your roster of volunteers and services offered as you move into the future?
RuthAnn Logue: Mmm...it's going to be very important actually. We can always use more volunteers. It's a big job. It's a very big job serving this community. We're so happy that we're able to do it, that we've got the resources, and we have very, very low overhead, obviously, because the biggest expense would be our warehouse, and that's basically covered. We have two older--much older--sprinter vans that have been donated. We're looking to try to replace one of those with something slightly newer, so that we can serve more. We're sometimes limited by the number of vans. We only have two, so we can serve a client, and we can do pickups, but we can't do those things necessarily at the same time. And then, just people--people to come in and help sort, to help pick items for a client, to help deliver items for a client, and to set those things up, everything from making beds to hanging artwork. Those are all things that volunteers are called on to do. So, yes, we are always looking to expand our volunteer base.
David Fair: Well, as we look into the future and maybe this is not the appropriate thing to say to you, I hope your job becomes unnecessary. But, until such time, I think we're all grateful for the work that you and your staff and volunteers are all doing.
RuthAnn Logue: Thank you. I agree. I will do this as long as homelessness is a problem, and I hope that it's not a problem for a lot longer.
David Fair: That is RuthAnn Logue. She leads the executive team of the Ypsilanti-based volunteer nonprofit HouseN2Home. Now, for more information on the organization, the work that's being done, and your volunteer opportunities, check out our website at WEMU dot org. Washtenaw United is produced in partnership with the United Way of Washtenaw County, and you hear it every Monday. I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR station. 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti.
Most recently, HouseN2Home is a recipient of the Power of the Purse Fund, which aims to support existing and emerging programs and initiatives that increase the financial capability of people who identify as women.
UWWC invested in the work of HouseN2Home through a $10,737 grant to support their mission of creating spaces for women and their families to thrive in as they transition from homelessness in Washtenaw County. UWWC is the first institutional investor to come alongside HouseN2Home to help catalyze their vision for more dignified permanent housing environments.
WEMU has partnered with the United Way of Washtenaw County to explore the people, organizations, and institutions creating opportunity and equity in our area. And, as part of this ongoing series, you’ll also hear from the people benefiting and growing from the investments being made in the areas of our community where there are gaps in available services. It is a community voice. It is 'Washtenaw United.'
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