CINCINNATI -- Adrienne Coggins’ baby boy, Kingston, was only four weeks old when the two of them became homeless.
But after a month with Interfaith Hospitality Network of Greater Cincinnati, they got a new place to live in East Price Hill. Thanks to New Life Furniture Bank, their two-bedroom apartment is fully furnished, too.
“It feels great, and I am so excited and so thankful,” said Coggins, 38, as she sat with her baby in a glider rocker provided by New Life. “Me and Kingston, we are going to enjoy our new place and our new furniture.”
Families make up one-third of Hamilton County’s homeless population at any given time, but their numbers swell in the summer.
That puts added pressure on organizations that work to find those families more stable living arrangements and also on New Life Furniture Bank, which provides beds, sofas and other furnishings those families need to make their living arrangements feel like home.
“We’re turning agencies down right and left because the need is incredible,” said Jill Keefe, New Life’s client services manager. “We reach on average four families per day. We would love to up it to six or eight.”
Growing to meet the need
New Life has grown significantly since the organization’s founding in 2006. Holly Young, Tim Nabors and volunteers from Milford First United Methodist Church worked with Interfaith Hospitality Network to launch the region’s first furniture bank. They were inspired to act after learning that a woman that they had helped out of homelessness pulled mattresses out of a dumpster so her children wouldn’t have to sleep on the floor of their new apartment.
Young and other members of the church held a furniture and housewares drive to help the woman, and the idea for the furniture bank was born.
New Life was a small ministry of the church for its early years and delivered to six families during its first year. It became a 501(c)3 furniture bank in 2009. In 2016, the organization delivered to nearly 600 households, said Dana Saxton, the executive director at New Life.
“This year we hope to deliver to 800,” she said. “Many of our families and individuals that we’re working with are fleeing domestic abuse. We work with young adults that are aging out of foster care and getting into their new homes. We work with veterans, immigrants. We also respond in cases of natural disasters.”
Last year, for example, the organization helped nearly 50 families that lost everything when their homes flooded in Norwood, she said.
Starting from scratch
New Life gets its furniture through donations. Sometimes hotels or colleges will donate large quantities of mattresses, desks and other furnishings. But lots of donations also come from individual households.
The gently used items make a huge difference for the families at Interfaith Hospitality Network of Greater Cincinnati who are working to start over, said Crystal Steele, IHN’s director of shelter and housing.
“A majority of our clients do go through New Life,” Steel said. “It makes them feel like they’re at home.”
Families that become homeless usually have lost nearly all their possessions, either because they had no place to store furniture and other items when they got evicted or because they could no longer afford to pay the bills to a storage company.
“They have to start from scratch,” Steele said.
That’s what Adrienne Coggins had to do.
Coggins had to quit her job in the final weeks of her pregnancy because of her gestational diabetes and high blood pressure. Her husband became the sole breadwinner and got overwhelmed, she said.
“He just couldn’t pay the bills,” Coggins said. “We ended up separating.”
Coggins moved the gifts for Kingston that she had received during her baby shower into her mom’s small basement. Then she packed up clothes for herself and her baby and left her apartment before she got evicted.
Home, sweet home
She arrived at Interfaith Hospitality Network of Greater Cincinnati on June 26.
The organization helped her update her resume and has been helping her look for childcare for Kingston for after she returns to work.
IHN also helped Coggins find a freshly painted two-bedroom apartment in East Price Hill. She and Kingston moved into the place even before their furniture arrived from New Life.
They slept on a pallet of blankets on the floor, Coggins said, just happy to be in their own space.
The furniture from New Life arrived the next morning, and Coggins could hardly stop smiling.
She got a queen-sized bed for herself and the rocker and dressing table for Kingston. New Life also delivered a couch, chairs, lamps, bookshelves, a desk, dining table and television along with dishes and pots and pans for the kitchen and some art to hang on the walls.
In less than an hour, Coggins' empty apartment became a home filled with everything she and her baby needed.
The next major goal, Coggins said, will be getting a job and finding childcare for Kingston.
Before that, she was thinking about how she would rearrange her new furniture after the New Life movers left along with a more immediate need that any parent of a newborn could understand.
“After you guys leave,” Coggins told a visitor on move-in day, “I’m going to sleep.”
Information about Interfaith Hospitality Network of Greater Cincinnati is available online, too.
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Childhood poverty is an important focus for her and for WCPO. To read more stories about childhood poverty, go to www.wcpo.com/poverty.
To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.