Stories from the Recovery: Furniture delivers a sense of home

“The house finally feels comfortable and inviting once more. Thank you to BakerRipley for providing us with new, undamaged furniture. Now my kids and I have a place to reconnect and be a family again.” – Amber Kirkland, BakerRipley Unmet Needs recipient

Imagine thinking you dodged a bullet, only to discover two days later your fears are now reality. That’s exactly what happened to Conroe resident Amber Kirkland and her family when the San Jacinto River came out of its banks and flooded her Tall Timbers neighborhood.

“Hurricane Harvey hit Saturday and the fire department came on Monday and told us we had to evacuate,” Amber said. “I had no time. I grabbed important documents, some food and sentimental items and got to safety with my kids. Looking back, I wish I had grabbed the family photo albums. They are gone.”

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When she returned to the home five days later, all of their belongings were tossed about like toys courtesy of three and a half feet of water in the house. Amber applied for FEMA funding and got assistance to repair the interior walls and floors. They moved back in the house towards the end of October, however, the house lacked a welcoming feel without furniture for her family to gather together.

“Furniture and appliances make up the largest chunk of unmet needs expenses because those are the items that make the house feel like a home again,” BakerRipley Disaster Recovery Services Senior Director Barbara Schetter said. “You can cook at home on a stove and with a bed, you have something to sleep on.”

BakerRipley disaster case managers work with a family or individual to identify items the family doesn’t have the resources for and could use assistance. It can be furniture, financial assistance for temporary housing and medical expenses, car repairs to help someone get to work, to name a few.

In order to qualify for unmet needs assistance, Amber’s disaster case manager, Nicole Lee, started with the assessment plan and did a home visit to determine her living situation, what items were damaged and what she had salvaged or been given. From there, Amber had to meet the income requirement and Nicole verified the damage came from Harvey. She then submitted the request for furniture on her behalf.

“Once we place the furniture order and it’s been approved, the check gets cut and then the furniture vendor is made aware of the order,” Barbara said. “This could take anywhere from one to two weeks.”

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BakerRipley partners with either Exclusive Furniture, Katy Furniture or the Houston Furniture Bank on each delivery. Each vendor has a catalog of furniture items, complete with pricing, and the neighbor chooses furniture sets by room. BakerRipley has currently processed over 3,000 unmet needs requests, so it makes sense to streamline the process by having the neighbor choose from only one vendor for their furniture. From there, the vendor contacts the neighbor to schedule the delivery and set up of the furniture depending on the neighbor’s availability.

“The funding comes from two partnering agencies, the United Way and the Greater Houston Community Foundation,” Barbara said. “Private dollars like this are critical to bridge the gap between immediate needs and long-term recovery.”

The start of Amber’s recovery came thanks to one of BakerRipley’s volunteer canvassing events where staff and volunteers walk door-to-door in hard hit neighborhoods to talk to Harvey survivors and inform them about what the agency offers. The 33-year-old scheduled an appointment, went to the United Way of Montgomery County, got assigned to a BakerRipley disaster case manager and they immediately bonded.

“Amber reminds me of my mom, a single mother with three girls who works to put a roof over their heads and takes everything on her shoulders to give her daughters a better life,” Disaster Case Manager Nicole Lee said. “It touched me and I wanted to be her lifeline to get her family life back in order.”

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Nicole has helped Amber with a new bed, dresser, dining room table and chairs, couch, loveseat and coffee and end tables. She’s also working on a homeowner-managed restoration application through BakerRipley to have Amber’s exterior siding replaced and the house painted; her application is pending. Meanwhile, Amber’s happy to see the interior come together and she says the furniture is more than a material.

“The house finally feels comfortable and inviting once more,” Amber said. “Thank you to BakerRipley for providing us with new, undamaged furniture. Now my kids and I have a place to reconnect and be a family again.”

She’s looking forward to sitting down on the new couch and loveseat and having a family movie night with her kids.