In 2017, John Devecka and two colleagues launched the Baltimore Furniture Bank, which provides free furniture to those in need.
Devecka, of North Baltimore’s Cold Spring neighborhood, is the operations director for the student-run radio station WLOY at Loyola University Maryland. He met his future Furniture Bank colleagues, Damien Haussling and Tony Simmons, when the university launched Word on the Street, a newspaper that told stories about people without homes, in 2012. The paper folded in 2015 due to financial hardships, Devecka said.
While the Furniture Bank launched in a one-car garage four years ago, it’s now based out of a 10,000-square-foot warehouse in North Baltimore’s Woodberry that boasts more than $100,000 worth of inventory.
The nonprofit works with 19 organizations, such as Project PLASE at Saint Josephs Monastery Parish in Southwest Baltimore and St. Vincent de Paul, which has locations throughout Baltimore, to get furniture to people moving into housing. It makes which makes 10 to 15 deliveries a month.
Yvonne Wilson’s finance, De’Trell Garvin, was shot to death in February 2020. She lost her job as a receptionist that March and said she couldn’t afford to buy furniture for her two-bedroom apartment in Druid Heights in West Baltimore.
Druid Community Development Corp., a nonprofit housing counseling agency, put her in contact with the Furniture Bank. Wilson, who still is unemployed, was given living and dining room sets as well as a bedroom set for her 12-year-old daughter.
“I think it’s extremely important to Baltimore because a lot of families don’t have the funds to purchase furniture,” Wilson said “The Furniture Bank makes a way for people to actually come and receive furniture at no cost.”
Devecka said the Furniture Bank has received funds from the France-Merrick Foundation, individuals and others who want to remain anonymous, but the organization still needs financial assistance to help pay for such expenses as rent, staff and electricity.
After donors fill out a form on the organization’s website, workers will come and pick up the furniture.
“We knew there was a need, but we didn’t know how great the need was,” Devecka said.
More people have been needing help since the start of the pandemic in 2020, he said. For example, he said, to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus, there have been efforts to move people out of homeless shelters — because they’re crowded — to homes and apartments, but they’re often are not furnished. The Furniture Bank also gave more than 400 desks to low-income children in the fall of 2020 to help with learning from home, he said.
In August, The Baltimore Sun reported that nearly 26,000 Baltimore City households were behind on rent and face uncertainty after the U.S. Supreme Court blocked President Joe Biden’s plan to extend an eviction moratorium.
“Anything to help to remove or reduce the obstacles to returning to housing is incredibly valuable to anyone — not just the [people without homes],” Devecka said. “We all do better when no one is suffering.”
Haussling, who co-founded the Furniture Bank with Devecka and serves as its president, said he did not have a home at one point. Haussling, of West Baltimore’s Druid Heights, said he loves to help people because it makes him happy that he’s doing something necessary.
“The [Furniture Bank] is a resource that Baltimore clearly needs,” he said.
Simmons, also a co-founder and warehouse manager of the Furniture Bank, has been sharing a two-bedroom apartment with Haussling for the past two years in West Baltimore.
There are misconceptions about the unhoused, he said. The public often sympathizes with those left destitute by natural disasters, he said. But people who lose their jobs are blamed for not having housing, he said.
Simmons, who said he was without housing for six years, said helping others “makes my day.”
“It’s the feeling once you get there [at their house] to see how appreciative they are for helping them,” Simmons said. “That’s what I want to do.”
This article is part of our Newsmaker series that profiles notable people in the Baltimore region who are having an impact in our diverse communities. If you’d like to suggest someone who should be profiled, please send their name and a short description of what they are doing to make a difference to: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Editor Kamau High at email@example.com.