Washtenaw County community furnishes over 25 apartments for those exiting homelessness

Residents work with Ann Arbor organizations to ready homes for those in need

Large furniture for the massive collaborative project was provided by HouseN2Home and Kiwanis. (Heidi Ruud / HouseN2Home)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – What do friends, families, realtors, neighbors, church groups, a tennis group, a Girl Scout troop, book clubs, coffee clubs, hospital staff, the Ann Arbor Thrift Store, a student from Huron High school and an empty-nesters group all have in common?

They all turned bare apartments into welcoming homes for community members exiting homelessness.

It’s hard to furnish just one apartment but groups from around Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County have furnished over 25 in Avalon Housing’s new Hickory Way Apartments.

Supported by HouseN2Home and Kiwanis Thrift Sale, who supplied large furniture including beds frames, mattresses and dressers, each community group collected home furnishings over the past few months.

During the first two weekends in January, they worked in teams to ready the new units for their future occupants.

“It was exhilarating and a wonderful, unique way our team could give back to support our community,” said Sarah Brown, a member of the St. Joseph’s Acute Flow unit team.

Located on South Maple Road, the new 70-unit Hickory Way supportive housing apartment complex will help adults transitioning out of chronic homelessness with supportive services and affordable housing.

In teams of four, sponsor groups went into the Hickory Way building to set up their apartments. With large furniture already moved in, they got to work transforming the apartments into homes with their furnishings.

To remain socially distant and safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, masked teams entered the building at staggered times so as to not run into each other.

“It was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon pulling together the donations of over 30 people from my church to love a neighbor,” said Carol Grafton, whose church sponsored a unit.

“Everyone gave what they could to make a big difference in the life of one person getting a fresh start as the recipient of our collective generosity.”

Pantry, household basics, toiletries and cleaning kits were also provided by community groups including Greenhills School, Huron Hills Church and a group of neighbors in Canton.

The generosity of the Washtenaw County community has not only helps future occupants but also helps Avalon Housing, which usually isn’t able to provide already-furnished housing to its clients.

“Through this partnership with HouseN2Home and all of these volunteers, and what they are collectively doing, it makes it possible for our Avalon staff to focus on what we do best and fulfilling our mission,” said Marcia Luke-van Dijk, the Avalon Housing Director of Communications and Fund Development.

Staff can now focus on helping Hickory Way occupants set up leases, find supportive services, sign up for disability benefits and address pressing physical or mental health issues, instead of hunting for apartment furnishings.

Luke-van Dijk said that community members have responded to the daunting task with compassion and thoughtfulness, which showed in the personal touches, like bedside slippers and welcome home messages.

“What is so incredible about this project, is the people that have come together to create this atmosphere and these homes. Our clients that get to move in will get the sense that the community cares about them. I cannot tell you how much that means to our clients. It says ‘You deserve this, we see you’,” said Jessica Howell, a Hickory Way Support Coordinator.

By the end of the first phase of Hickory Way move-ins, community members will have filled 34 units. An additional 36 units will be available for Avalon Housing clients sometime in the summer, seven of which still need sponsors.

Friends, families, teams, organizations and individuals interested in sponsoring a unit can reach out to HouseN2Home, through its website.

To find out more about the Hickory Way project, see http://www.housen2home.org.

Check out these photos from the January move-ins:

A "welcome home" sign in a new Hickory Way apartment. (Heidi Ruud / HouseN2Home)
A living room set up by Hickory Way unit sponsors. (Heidi Ruud / HouseN2Home)
Teams of volunteers and sponsors worked to collect items and set up over 25 apartments at Hickory Way in January. (Heidi Ruud / HouseN2Home)
Apartments were furnished by volunteers and sponsors in January. (Heidi Ruud / HouseN2Home)
Sponsors left small personal items for the new unit occupants. (Heidi Ruud / HouseN2Home)
Furniture in the new apartments came second hand and was set up by unit sponsors. (Heidi Ruud / HouseN2Home)

About the Author:

Sarah has worked for WDIV since June 2018. She covers community events, good eats and small businesses in Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in Applied Linguistics from Grand Valley State University.