Pontiac nonprofit turns its attention to homeless vets
Brenda Scoggins has worked with local military veterans who felt so forgotten and overlooked that they never smiled.
But something changed in those vets, who were once homeless, when they were paired with a Pontiac-based nonprofit, Humble Design, that designs and furnishes homes for those coming out of homelessness, said Scoggins, a case manager with Veterans Administrative Supportive Housing. They felt like they mattered again.
“They open that door and the look on their face, it’s just absolute joy,” said Scoggins.
Now, Humble Design wants to help even more veterans feel that sense of joy. It’s gearing up to open a satellite warehouse in the former Lear Building in Dearborn that will work with homeless vets only.
A team of volunteers from AAA of Michigan descended on the 11,000 square foot space, donated by UHaul, on Wednesday to paint walls in bright orange and teal hues, vacuum and set up shelves that will soon be filled with housewares, furniture, dishes and more.
Cheryl Zella and Sue Wojciechowski of Macomb County were among more than 70 AAA volunteers —AAA of Michigan’s headquarters are located right across the parking lot from the new warehouse on Auto Club Drive — who signed up to help out.
Wojciechowski snipped fabric while Zella stapled it to a large board that will eventually be set up as a bulletin board in a conference room.
“My dad was in the military. I’ve always had a big heart for vets,” said Wojchiechowski, a claims manager from St. Clair Shores.
Julie Nagle, Humble Design’s executive director, said having a warehouse that specifically services veterans will allow the nonprofit to work with even more agencies that help get homeless vets off the streets. Humble has furnished the homes of 60 veterans since 2016, but there is a waiting list and they only work with the VA right now.
And “all of the agencies I talk to say they can’t provide the services we provide,” said Nagle.
Homelessness continues to be a serious issue for veterans for several reasons, said Scoggins. Many battle with financial issues, mental health problems or substance abuse, she said. According to the Annual Homeless Assessment Report, there were 49,933 homeless veterans on a single night in January 2014 (the most recent year available) in the United States, a 10 percent decline since 2013.
But even those who get vouchers for housing, that’s all it is, says Scoggins.
“Furniture doesn’t come with the voucher,” she said. Humble Design “fills a tremendous niche.”
Nagle says by personalizing a home’s decor – designers interview each client and their families about their interests, even favorite color palettes – their goal is to help clients succeed and not wind up homeless again. Since 2014, Nagle says 99 percent of their clients are still in their homes.
“They transform a place to live in into a home,” said Scoggins.
Wednesday’s buildout day came just weeks after Nagle reached out to Keith Mobley, AAA of Michigan’s director of corporate contributions and community relations, about possibly teaming up. As soon as AAA heard about Humble’s mission, “that struck a note with us,” said Mobley.
“When you think about what veterans have done for our country, why wouldn’t we do it?” said Mobley. “How could we possibly say no?”
Once the warehouse is completey set up – it’s located in what was once Lear’s cafeteria – Nagle said their plan is to hold a grand opening in November, possibly on Veteran’s Day Nov. 11. They’ll then fill the warehouse with donated housewares and furniture and hire a design team. Starting Jan. 1, they hope to furnish one house a week.
Humble Design Dearborn
Humble Design’s new Dearborn warehouse on Auto Club Drive will open later this fall. No furniture donations are being accepted at this time, but they accept donations Monday through Friday at their Pontiac warehouse. Call (248) 243-7144 or visit humbledesign.org.