There’s a feeling we’ve all had when a new idea finally clicks. When you’ve just learned – after a great amount of effort – how to solve a tough problem. For many, it’s been a teacher who has helped them achieve that moment. When Damien Haussling was a high school math teacher, there was no feeling quite like seeing that lightbulb go on for his students.
“I absolutely loved it,” Haussling said of his teaching experience. “There’s nothing like having somebody’s eyes light up when they’ve learned a concept that they didn’t previously understand. I love that form of giving.”
As a math teacher, Haussling was no stranger to helping others solve problems. Now, with the founding of the Baltimore Furniture Bank – he’s turning his passion for problem solving toward addressing the epidemic of homelessness.
Homelessness affects many in Baltimore and around the country. In Baltimore alone, as many as 30,000 people experience homelessness throughout the year. Each night an estimated 3,000 experience homelessness. A lack of affordable housing is the root cause of homelessness. Expenses go well beyond housing and include furniture and furnishings that make an otherwise empty house a real home. Without these essentials, a person’s physical and mental health can suffer.
Haussling saw these challenges first-hand after he experienced a period of homelessness. Now, partnering with case workers, social workers, and a network of professionals, he’s started the Baltimore Furniture Bank to empower others experiencing homelessness to begin the next phase of their lives. The furniture bank will connect low-income individuals and families to much needed gently used furniture and household items. Any Baltimore family needing furniture who doesn’t have the needed resources can also receive services, expanding the pool of recipients to include those who lost furniture due to fire or citizens taking in foster children. The furniture bank fills an underserved population in Maryland, acting as a centralized hub to serve the Baltimore-area.
With his selection as an OSI Community Fellow, Haussling will be able to dedicate himself full-time to the project. This additional time is critically important as the bank increases its services to the community. By the end of 2020, the furniture bank will serve an estimated 8-12 families a month. Schools, churches, and businesses have already strongly supported the project by offering furniture and furnishings. Haussling has secured warehouse space and will soon seek additional space to accommodate the groundswell of goods and support.
From helping students solve equations, to playing his part in solving the problem of homelessness in Baltimore – Haussling is driven to give back. He hopes the furniture bank will also serve as a forum where others can give back too. A place where students can come and volunteer. A place where the barriers and unfair stereotypes of people experiencing homelessness and poverty fall away.
Ultimately, Haussling hopes the bank brings joy to people who need it most.
“I really do enjoy making other people happy, and this is certainly one way to do that. I recognize a problem and I want to try and fix it. It may not necessarily be the fact that I’m giving furniture but just the fact that I’m giving something to people,” Haussling said.
“I’m helping to solve a problem that is certainly solvable,” he said. Adding, “and it generally makes people happy.”