Imagine how it feels to be without
a bed, a table and chairs, or a dresser and a couch. “It is estimated that
three hundred thousand children sleep on the floor in this great city of Houston, Texas,” exclaimed Oli Mohammed,
founder of the Houston Furniture Bank, which celebrated its twenty-sixth
anniversary on March 30, 2019. What exactly is the Houston Furniture Bank, you
might wonder. For starters, it is not a typical bank, which created some
confusion initially. Oli recalls with amusement that, when founding the furniture
bank, he had to get permission from the Texas Banking Commission before the
organization could register the name using the word “bank.” The Houston
Furniture Bank was not dealing with money, but with something worth more, the
love for families who were looking at financial hardship, life transitions, or had
come to the city as newly arrived refugees. The furniture bank’s slogan is “to
make empty houses homes,” and with it, they provide “a little bit of dignity”
to the people living in those homes by taking care of their needs with
The first years presented challenges that required a lot of footwork. Oli borrowed a truck and started going to apartment association meetings and knocking on the doors of furniture companies and retailers. Jodie Hoffer, owner of Hoffer Furniture, was one of the original supporters of the furniture bank. Initially, the mission of the Houston Furniture Bank was to provide furniture to families or individuals who were transitioning from mental health facilities back into society, but the mission eventually expanded. The first pilot program was a success and the furniture bank collected furniture for 140 families.
From 1992 into 1995, the furniture
bank served the MHMRA clients only and, in the middle of 1995, opened its doors
to other agencies. By 1997 the bank
provided furniture to 487 clients and donations were organized through
companies like Star Furniture, Oak Crafters Furniture, Hoffer Furniture, Tandem
Staffing, Kaplan Educational Centers, Houston Apartment Association, Cotton
Moving & Storage, and Bankhead Thompson Media. The furniture bank’s slogan
at the time was “Just Donate it!”[i]
Houstonians will never forget 2017 after Hurricane Harvey hovered over the city for days. The storm left most of Houston underwater, and the disaster caused $125 billion in damage, the second most costly hurricane since 1900. An estimated 13 million people were affected by Hurricane Harvey alone, and nearly 135,000 homes were damaged or destroyed throughout Texas.[i] Although the Houston Furniture Bank could not open for a few days after Harvey, when the doors finally did open, Oli got to work calling many companies in the mattress and furniture business to ask for help. The excitement to help caused shipments of trailers after trailers, totaling twenty-three trailers of furniture and mattresses, from within Houston and nationally.
In mid-September, people started to
line up outside the furniture bank, which caused problems since HFB can only
serve up to seventy families per day. People had to show some proof of their
damage, usually from FEMA. When Oli came in at 5:00 a.m. he started noticing
people sleeping outside on the parking lot. The crowds got difficult, and it
had to come to a halt. The furniture bank began to reroute people through
agencies, requiring them to come in by appointment, which made things go
smoother. To speed up the process, HFB issued families a Harvey package, which
included a mattress, box spring, and an individual furniture piece. The
furniture bank has helped three thousand families affected by Hurricane Harvey
thanks to a $750,000 grant from the Greater Houston Community Foundation.
Grants have also come from the Red Cross and other organizations totaling over
$1.5 million to purchase furniture and mattresses since the storm hit. The Harvey program will be coming to an end
in September of 2019.
Romie de Leon was one of the
furniture bank’s beneficiaries. She came to Houston in 2007, and through the
help of organizations like Bridges over Troubled Waters she was able to
overcome and had furniture delivered to her apartment by HFB in 2008. She now works
for HCMH and was invited to the twenty-sixth-anniversary celebration with
current Mayor Sylvester Turner. She shared her experience and says, “There are no words to describe the joy in my heart when the
Houston Furniture Bank brought furniture for my apartment. It was the beginning
of a new life for me and they were there to help me succeed.”[i]
Romie now does the same for other families in need. Through the HCMH, she sets
up an appointment and takes them to the HFB and gets to rejoice with the
families when they pick out their furniture, bringing the experience full
[i] Romie de Leon, email letter to Romie, June 7, 2019, Houston Furniture Bank & Houston history Magazine.
[i] “2017 Hurricane Harvey: Facts, FAQs, and how to help,” September 7, 2018, WorldVision.org, www.worldvision.org/disaster-relief-news-stories/2017-hurricane-harvey-facts.
 Oli Mohammed, interview by Ruben Castro, February 20, 2019, UH-Oral History of Houston, Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries.
[i] Mohammed interview.