Brian Hart is a former corporate attorney who became the founder and CEO of LightHouse, a non-profit in Washington DC which gives re-purposed furniture and home goods to low-income people. Since beginning, they have helped furnish homes for around 65 people and hope to help more at their New Year’s Eve Gatsby Gala on Dec. 31, 2017 from 8:00pm-1:00 am on New Year’s Day at the Josephine Butler Parks Center. He talks more about DC’s issues with affordable housing, LightHouse’s mission and the gala here!  

Can you describe what you are doing this New Year’s Eve?

We are hosting a jazz New Year’s Eve event with a Gatsby gala theme where we are inviting members of the community, friends and family to have a great celebration and ring in the New Year supporting a local charity and a good cause. All 13 DC councilmembers and the DC attorney general have all graciously agreed to be honorary hosts of the event and have really been standing with us from the beginning and are very supportive of our mission to help people transition into affordable housing.

How did you come up with this idea for the event?

Well, we were thinking there are all these various parties on New Year’s Eve and it would be great if there was a party where you could have a nice night, listen to great jazz music and also support a local charity and people in need. There was no local charity jumping out at us on New Year’s Eve.

Why is it important to shed light on this issue particularly in DC?

Well, this is one of the major challenges addressing the city – affordable housing and homelessness are at crisis levels and within the new policy approach of housing first, one of the challenges within that is ensuring that people have a stable home [and] that they have a fully furnished real home environment. There are far too many people across the entire city who are eating and sleeping on the floor, living in an empty space or reverting to homelessness because they do not have basic house hold goods or furniture like a bed, or a table or a couch. We realized this was a major problem in our previous work in homeless services. Through our work with DC councilmembers like Robert White, we saw there was this massive waitlist of people who did not have what they need and as a result, it was very difficult for them to enjoy life and take advantage of other services like education and job training and career counseling and other services.

How is affordable housing becoming more and more of an issue and how are you seeing it affect people?

There are 7000 people living in homelessness, over 120,000 living in poverty and people are either being driven out of the city to live in other places or they literally cannot afford their rent, are evicted and put out on the street. Our phones have literally been off the hook. We have partnerships with over 20 non-profit agencies across the city including Pathways to Housing, Jubilee Housing, DC Government, DC human services, DC housing authority. There’s a real need in which people don’t have these basic goods – their children are sleeping on the floor who started school. We served a veteran who was living in an empty home, it is unacceptable that people are living in these kinds of conditions so we can reduce and end chronic homelessness, this part of the continuum of care needs to be addressed and that is exactly why we have been created.

What kind of steps have you taken to fight this problem?

So the key difference is, we do use donated goods and resources, high quality donated goods to individuals with the idea that it is cost-effective, helps people and prevents things from going to waste. There are furniture banks that exist, and there are other organizations in DC. What we do that’s different is we deliver and we furnish. If furniture banks exist, people oftentimes have trouble actually taking advantage of those services. To take advantage of a furniture bank, you have to get your own moving truck, your own labor, people continue to suffer. We recognize that and we invested in the delivery part. There’s no other nonprofit in the DC area solely focused on the furnishing of people’s homes.

How have you seen it help impact people’s lives? Can you give an example?

One of our newest programs is a sponsored home program in which we work with a local organization or company to sponsor a family. They’ll make a monetary donation, provide anywhere from 7-12 volunteers to come out for the day and work with us. They will help us furnish the home, we work with a pro bono interior designer and filmmaker. The family will leave, go to lunch, they’ll come back and the home is furnished. The first woman we worked with was Tania Webb. She has 3 children and 2 young daughters in elementary school in DC. Their father died last year, and as a result, they were homeless because of that and lived in the DC homeless shelter system and in hotels in Maryland before they received affordable housing on the same street she grew up in DC. These little girls were literally sleeping on the floor for a month before starting school. We went into the home, completely furnished it [and] the look on her face was just incredible. You could tell it gave them a gift of so much. It’s tough to put into words.

Resized LightHouse

Resized LightHouse 2

Watch more of their story here. 

What are you hoping to accomplish with this event?

This past year, in 6 months since we started operations in June, our goal for the entire year was to help 32 persons. In 6 months, since we started operations, we have already helped 65, so we doubled our goal in 6 months. Our goal for next year is to help over 150 people and to put it in perspective, the cost to fully furnish a home is approximately 3000 dollars and because of our partnership model and volunteer network, we are able to do it for 1300 dollars. With the funds we raised from New Year’s Eve, we hope to help 10 families.

Make sure to buy tickets for the gala here.