Community

Bed for homeless boy inspires Iowa City nonprofit to help furnish families in need

Houses into Homes helps families, other transitioning out of homelessness

Houses into Homes volunteers Curtiss Uthe of Iowa City, left, and Bill Paradee of Iowa City unload a couch for a family at an apartment complex in Iowa City on Sunday, Aug. 26, 2018. The new Johnson County nonprofit helps people transition from homelessness into homes with donated items such as furniture. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Houses into Homes volunteers Curtiss Uthe of Iowa City, left, and Bill Paradee of Iowa City unload a couch for a family at an apartment complex in Iowa City on Sunday, Aug. 26, 2018. The new Johnson County nonprofit helps people transition from homelessness into homes with donated items such as furniture. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — What simply started as Salina McCarty clicking the “share” button on a viral video of a boy receiving a bed for the first time morphed into inspiration for one of the area’s newest nonprofits, dedicated to duplicating that boy’s experience here in Johnson County.

Last month, an organization called Houses into Homes received its official nonprofit status. The group, cofounded by Lucy Barker and McCarty in February, works to collect donated furniture and move it into homes of people transitioning out of homelessness.

“It was really moving,” McCarty said about the viral video, adding that Barker saw her post and reached out to McCarty to talk about the need around Iowa City. “It’s a way for people to have an immediate impact on someone else. ... This is something where you give someone a bed and a pillow and they sleep that night.”

The organization started by providing beds, focusing on children in the Iowa City Community School District. Since it started, Houses into Homes has delivered 81 beds and at least 20 couches, and fully furnished seven homes thanks to referrals from numerous agencies.

The organization’s clients are mostly people who lack a family network or have grown up in a cycle of poverty.

“Your family that you’ve grown up with has worked so hard their entire life to just fulfill basic ends, and so you go into adulthood and you’re in that same position,” McCarty said.

As it begins to make more deliveries, storage has become the organization’s biggest obstacle. Right now, the volunteers work out of a temporary storage space in St. Andrew’s Church and two discounted Quality Care rented storage units. Eventually, Barker said, she’d like to see the organization have its own warehouse.

“What we see overall is a warehouse with enough inventory that when we get a referral we can say ‘Our next delivery is this date’ ... and we’re able to help whoever comes in as quickly as we can,” she said.

McCarty said Houses into Homes’ biggest needs are cash donations to help fund storage and truck rental. She said about 90 percent of those costs are paid out of her and Barker’s own pockets right now.

The next step for the organization is to find enough sponsors to afford more permanent warehouse space or someone who can partner to provide space or a truck.

“Ultimately our goal is to have enough space that we can collect items regularly. We’ve had to turn down donations just because we haven’t had enough space,” McCarty said.

Barker said that while furniture is certainly a need for their clients, Houses into Homes is also finding out people who need furniture are also eating off paper plates and don’t have basic kitchen supplies like pots and pans. Because of that, the organization is also in need of things like shower curtains, bath mats, lamps and decorative items, among other smaller household items.

“It just makes you want to do more,” said Patti Paradee, vice president of the organization’s board of directors.

For more information on Houses into Homes, visit housesintohomes.wordpress.com.

l Comments: (319) 339-3172; maddy.arnold@thegazette.com

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