Photo by Nolan P. Schmidt
Having a pillow and bed of one’s own is often taken for granted, but for those emerging from homelessness who have recently secured housing, furnishing a home is another significant challenge.
According to the F-M Coalition to End Homelessness, on any given night there are 1,022 individuals estimated to be experiencing homelessness in the Fargo-Moorhead metro. Of this number, there are 393 people experiencing homelessness in shelters, 113 people going unsheltered and 516 people staying with friends or family. As of April 2020, 555 students were identified as homeless in our metro school districts.
Down Home furnishes and decorates homes for families that are emerging from homelessness in the Fargo-Moorhead area. Since its beginning in December 2017, Down Home has transformed 68 empty spaces into homes for 218 men, women and children in Fargo-Moorhead. Down Home furnishes approximately two homes a month. Prior to the founding of Down Home, there wasn’t a service filling the need to furnish homes that Down Home currently fills.
“It amazes me how strong the universal desire to provide the best for your children no matter what your circumstances are, and that always comes through with these parents, priority is what the kids need.”– Chris Wesland, Down Home volunteer
Volunteers Chris Wesland and Kristie Eid are active in many facets of the organization. Wesland coordinates the marketing efforts and assists with move-ins. Eid serves on the board of directors and organizes the behind the scenes efforts to fulfill the furnishings for clients.
All of the furnishings Down Home gives to families are donated by the community, with the exception of mattresses, which are purchased new for clients. Down Home works hard to personalize the spaces they furnish for clients by taking into consideration factors like their favorite colors.
“They may have gotten a piece or two of furniture from a friend, may have a few belongings that they were able to keep in a car or items they got from wherever they may have been staying, but really have nothing except the desire to do better for themselves,” Wesland said.
Wesland recently revisited one of the first families Down Home served to photograph their home and was amazed to see how their space has grown. “It is amazing to see their space, and how they have flourished within it, and to see how it’s just become a space that they embrace,” Wesland said.
There is no doubt that the services Down Home provides have become even more valuable during the pandemic, where the home has become a necessary place of safety and sanctuary.
“It amazes me how strong the universal desire to provide the best for your children no matter what your circumstances are, and that always comes through with these parents, priority is what the kids need,” Wesland said.
That is where Down Home comes in. The organization’s mission isn’t just to give these families and individuals stuff, it’s to give them items to help them create a secure, stable environment for their family.
“The first time you hear the phrase, ‘I’ve never had my own …,’ whether it be a bed, a couch or a pillow, those are always impactful,” Eid said. Eid also detailed a recent client that left a significant impact on her. “It was a mother with two teenage children, of which I have, and to do a move with someone in very much the same shoes as me just really hit home for me that it’s all types of families. The same issues my kid might have with someone teasing them is the same issues these kids have, but I can only imagine it’s amplified.”
A lot of teenagers that Down Home serves want bunk beds so they can have friends over for sleepovers, something that would have previously been impossible if they were living in a homeless shelter. Instances like this demonstrate how much we can take for granted. Simple things are what mean the most to these families, whether it be a bed, a couch or a kitchen table to sit around. By providing this resource, new opportunities and experiences are given to these teenagers and children and they are empowered to grow.
“One of the first families that I helped with the move-in was a mom, dad and three children. The gentleman broke down crying when he touched the bed. It was just so emotional. He said, ‘I’ve never had a bed that’s been off the floor,’” Wesland said.
In addition to furnishing the homes of those recently emerging to homelessness, Down Home also conducts the Good Night’s Sleep Campaign. The campaign brings awareness to the importance of having a bed by challenging the public to sleep on the floor, something many homeless people have to do every night. Participants of the challenge quickly realize how essential a mattress is in having a comfortable and fulfilling life. Down Home also provides Christmas tree packages to their clients around the holidays and partners with Box of Balloons, which gives birthday party supplies to children in need.
“We had a gentleman who had been incarcerated and then went through the F5 Project, and needed to have his space furnished and decorated so that he could have his young daughter with him,” Wesland said. “So if you have a place but you have no bed for her, he couldn’t have custody. He had a job, he was able to secure housing and then needed it furnished. We were able to help him with that.”
After furnishing a home for a client, Down Home continues to follow up with them for a year, referring the client to agencies and people in the community that can be resources for them.
“Maintaining those connections and helping boost our clients further and then helping them to pay it forward is a key part of what Down Home hopes to achieve,” Eid said.
Down Home also provides the Empower Up program, which equips those emerging from homelessness with the tools to identify thoughts and behaviors that have led to negative outcomes and how to develop new thinking habits that will create positive outcomes.
If you would like to donate to Down Home their current wishlist can be viewed on their website down-home.org.
2102 12th St. N
Fargo, ND 58102