When Brian Hart helped furnish the apartment of Shantie Morgan Palmer, a homeless mother of seven, he immediately knew this would be his life’s work.
“In that move, I realized how important this is, the powerful impact it can have on someone’s life,” said Hart, a lawyer, activist and former Adams Morgan advisory neighborhood commissioner. “Everyone was crying,” he said of the day last January when the furniture arrived.
At-large D.C. Council member Robert White had received a request for help from one of Palmer’s sons, and he turned to Hart for assistance. At the time, Hart was CEO of the KEYS for the Homeless, a nonprofit that sources goods from hotels, restaurants and businesses and then donates the items to people living in poverty. But responding to a different need for struggling local residents, he had recently teamed up with friends Jingwen Sun and Daniel Moskowitz to co-found LightHouse, a charity that sources and delivers furniture to those in need.
In an interview, Hart said he first noticed a glaring gap in affordable housing services while working for nonprofits and the local government. Often, Hart said, the homeless are provided with unfurnished living spaces. District furniture banks struggle to keep up with delivery demands for low-income housing, and waitlists extend months or years, he added.
“Four walls and a ceiling are not a home — that’s a shelter,” White told a crowd of 200, including eight of his council colleagues, at a June 7 event celebrating LightHouse’s launch. “The government provides shelter. Nonprofits step in, and they make it a home.”
LightHouse’s inaugural client, Lucki Moody, was made homeless when her landlord of 22 years decided to sell. Without LightHouse, the apartment Moody moved into in April with her disabled 29-year-old son — provided by affordable housing nonprofit Jubilee — would likely have stayed unfurnished through the summer. “LightHouse was just awesome. They gave me so much,” Moody told The Current. In honor of the nonprofit, Moody sang a moving rendition of “You Light up My Life” at the event.
LightHouse will rely on an intricate set of partners, including charities and corporations, for funding and assistance. Nonprofits like Jubilee, Pathways Housing and So Others Might Eat — as well as moving companies like Two Men and a Truck, Bookstore Movers, and Town & Country Movers — are set to support the operation.
Hart has lined up an array of city and community leaders in support of the fledgling group. Over the years, attorney and activist Matt Frumin — a member of the host committee for the June 7 event — has crossed paths with Hart in city and local government circles. Frumin expressed “full confidence” in LightHouse based on Hart’s sterling record of goodwill and activism. “I like how it focuses on one family, one life at a time,” Frumin told The Current. “On making each individual life better.”
Hart also hopes to attract an ever-growing team of volunteers. LightHouse has a website — lighthousewdc.org — and a social media presence, and it welcomes donations of furniture, money and time. Hart hopes that companies will spend a philanthropic day assisting LightHouse move a low-income or homeless family into a new home. While Hart appreciates the magnitude of the task at hand, he said, building a sturdy organizational infrastructure will help the group expand gradually and steadily.
“We can make sure everyone doesn’t just have four walls and a roof over their head, but an actual place to call home,” Hart told onlookers at the event. “And we can make sure that every single person has the opportunity to enjoy life free of poverty.”
Hart is well on his way: LightHouse’s inspiration, Palmer, along with its first official client, Moody, both attended Wednesday’s event and offered speeches brimming with emotion and gratitude. “I wasn’t going to be broken,” Palmer said of her 18 months sequestered in a cramped city-funded hotel room before she moved to her new apartment. “But LightHouse gave me the strength to get through.”