By Laura Samuel Meyn
Photos by Mark Graham
Tarrant County Furniture Bank is a source for beds, dressers and sofas as well as hope and dignity.
Saturdays are busy at the Tarrant County Furniture Bank, tucked into the old Coors distribution center in north Fort Worth, with an empty keg serving as a doorstop. It’s the day that deliveries of donated furniture roll into the warehouse, adding to the sea of used bed frames, dressers, desks, sofas, coffee tables and new mattresses.
Teresa Huskey founded the furniture bank to aid those transitioning out of homelessness. She got the idea while listening to a panel discussion at a 2018 conference hosted by the city of Fort Worth Directions Home program and the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition. “A panel member talked about her experience of escaping homelessness but still sleeping in a tent indoors. Federal money helps the homeless get into homes, but the money can’t be used for furniture,” says Huskey. “We’ve heard stories of social workers and case managers using resources out of their own pockets to get furniture for clients.”
To Huskey, the fear of becoming homeless was something to which she could relate. Laid off in 2016 following a 25-year career in health care management, she faced the possibility of losing her home. She was ultimately able to sell her house, but the close call was perspective-altering. Leaning on the funds from the sale of her house, the volunteerism of friends, the generosity of donors (including the owner of a storefront in Kennedale who provided temporary storage space), and acquaintances who stepped forward to serve as board members, Huskey launched the nonprofit in mid-August, with a ribbon-cutting officially marking the Tarrant County Furniture Bank’s opening.
Huskey and her board modeled the TCFB on the long-running Houston Furniture Bank, a huge operation that has served some 80,000 individuals since opening in 1992; in addition to the furniture bank, the organization also runs a retail outlet and a mattress recycling effort. “I went down and visited them. [Executive] Director Oli Mohammed has been phenomenal; he shared his procedures with me, and his staff has gone out of their way to educate us,” says Huskey. “Dallas Furniture Bank has been very helpful as well.”
Like the Houston Furniture Bank, TCFB works through partner agencies to reach clients in need. To date, Cornerstone Assistance Network, The Gatehouse, MHMR of Tarrant County and Presbyterian Night Shelter have signed on. Partner agencies purchase vouchers for $10 each, and provide clients with up to 20 vouchers for shopping — enough to furnish an apartment with a bed, dresser, dining set and sofa. A caseworker makes the appointment and brings the client shopping for furniture that will fit his or her space and needs. Huskey prefers furniture donations without damage or stains (“Something you’d give to friends or family,” she says) — and adds that it’s important the client gets to choose. “It’s a dignity thing,” says Huskey. “Some people say, ‘They’re homeless, they’ll take anything,’ but that’s just not our policy; we want to help them rebuild with self-esteem and the best chance for sustainability.”
Looking ahead, Huskey has her own new beginning — she has recently taken a job with an attorney who does health care work. She’ll continue spending evenings and weekends working at the furniture bank, along with 11 more board members, until they secure enough funding to hire a staff. And she looks forward to watching the effort grow, giving those transitioning out of homelessness a much-needed boost.
“I wish I could explain the passion I have for it,” says Huskey. “This is an opportunity to do something that engages my heart and fills a need in the community. Lots of beds have gone out the door. It is a humbling experience, for sure.”