Last night, I had dinner with my family around our kitchen table and then went to sleep in my bed. It sounds like an ordinary evening because, for most of us, it was. We think nothing of the furniture and appliances in our homes because we’re accustomed to these everyday luxuries. (In fact, we don’t think of them as luxuries at all.) But potentially millions of Canadians are living without the basic items many of us take for granted.
Furniture poverty is the inability to afford basic needs (such as furniture, appliances and utensils) that contribute to a standard quality of living. It most commonly affects people in transition, such as refugees, immigrants, women fleeing violence, or the formerly homeless. It’s a problem that’s often ignored because it only exists behind closed doors. The truth is it’s much more common – and more reversible – than you might think.
Charities like Furniture Bank are working hard to end furniture poverty for good by providing gently used items to people in need. However, a recent donations shortage has made it challenging to keep their warehouse stocked. The need for furniture is overwhelming: in addition to the 11,000 people they serve each year, another 50,000 are living in under-furnished conditions.
As part of a company that handles used furniture every day, our 1-800-GOT-JUNK? Toronto franchise partner Ashton Lubman wanted to help address a community issue. In a show of great leadership, he recently partnered with Furniture Bank to give customers the chance to donate their unwanted items to an important charity. By joining forces, we hope to amplify the message that everyone deserves a furnished home and that anyone can help.
The furniture poverty problem
People affected by furniture poverty often get caught in a cycle; they’re up against a wide range of barriers to securing stable income. Compared to rent, utilities, and food, furniture just isn’t a priority. But the cost of going without it is great, too: it can lead to insecurity, social exclusion and isolation. Furniture poverty is more than a state of financial hardship – there’s an emotional and physical toll that comes along with it.
“In the Toronto area alone, roughly 50,000 people are living in a state of furniture poverty each year,” says Dan Kershaw, Executive Director of Furniture Bank. “They can afford the apartment; they have the keys, the lights, the food, and they’re making do. But they can’t become successful members of society without the furniture required to turn their houses into homes. This is why we exist.”
Since opening in 1998, Furniture Bank has served more than 80,000 people, collected nearly half a million items and diverted 35 million pounds from the landfill. But with demand rapidly outpacing donations, Furniture Bank is experiencing a sliver of the poverty its clients deal with every day.
Part of the problem is that people simply don’t know where or how to dispose of used furniture.
The Toronto Environmental Alliance estimates that reusable goods make up 6 per cent of landfill waste in the GTA – a figure that could be reduced if everyone started donating used furniture instead of throwing it away.
The opportunity: donate to charity
At 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, we donate or recycle whenever possible. As part of this Furniture Drive, our Toronto team wants to educate customers about the impact donating to charity can have.
Thanks to Furniture Bank, the children of single parents have desks to do their homework and newcomers to Canada are able to start their new lives with dignity.
A partnership like this makes sense, since we’re already doing this kind of work every day. Our truck teams separate all gently used furniture and household items, divert them from the landfill and deliver them directly to Furniture Bank (or a charity of our customers’ choosing). People in need can then “shop” for furniture at the Furniture Bank warehouse just like they would at IKEA or The Brick. This provides people who otherwise wouldn’t have access to furniture with the comfort, dignity and stability that comes from having a furnished home.
By acting as a conduit, we hope to restock Furniture Bank’s warehouse so they can support as many people as possible. It’s a small step we can take to give our customers the chance to donate, while simultaneously giving back to the community.
I consider myself a very grateful person, but I’ll admit I rarely think about the security that furniture brings to my life. I envision a day when people no longer see their used furniture as “junk” – they see it as an opportunity to give someone a brighter future.
Executives, educators and human resources experts contribute to the ongoing Leadership Lab series.