Where the Heart Is

Posted July 11, 2020

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that our homes can provide the ultimate source of comfort and security, even when the world is in turmoil. It’s no different for those who’ve experienced homelessness. A place to call home offers not only a sense of stability, but also dignity. Understandably, people stepping out of a shelter and into a home often lack the resources to enhance a space beyond the essentials, and sometimes that alone is a stretch. Nonprofit organization Humble Design helps to bridge that gap by providing professional design services to curate a personalized home environment using donated items, all at no cost to the client.

Treger Strasberg and husband Rob, who joined
Humble Design as co-CEO in 2017

Created by La Jolla resident Treger Strasberg in 2009, Humble Design partners with multiple local organizations including Father Joe’s Villages, Alpha Project, and the San Diego Housing Commission, which help homeless individuals and families transition out of temporary housing and into their new life. Humble Design’s in-house designers meet with clients on a Monday to get a sense of who will be living in the space. “We ask them, ‘What has your last year been like? What are your interests? What are your hobbies? What are your goals?’ Some of them are speechless. People have not asked them these questions. Some of them have said, ‘I’ve never felt so beautiful. I’ve never had someone look me in the eyes and ask me what my hobbies were,’” says Humble Design San Diego’s director, Estee Elias. “I know we’re giving them furniture, but our main goal is to give them love.”

Following a few days of prepping, “shopping” their warehouse of donated furnishings and décor, and even custom-crafting pieces to personalize the space, a team installs in a span of four hours at the end of the week. The “big reveal” as the new residents cross the threshold of their fully-furnished home reinforces the value of what is being created, not just for the recipients, but also the givers. “We have volunteers that say this has changed their life,” says Alias, who says her operations manager has said their work helped her to realize that “everyone deserves beauty.”

Humble Design’s team customizes every space within a home for its new residents transitioning out of homelessness

With additional outfits established in Chicago, Seattle, and Detroit, Humble Design has reached more than 1,500 families, including 90 in its first two years in San Diego, according to Alias, who says the goal is to furnish three homes per week. Operations are supported by donors and private and corporate sponsorships at a cost of $5,000 per project, which includes the opportunity for a team of up to ten individuals to assist with installs and meet the families as they tour their completed home.

The value of the service Humble Design provides is measurable. “Currently, across the U.S., according to HUD [the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development], 47 percent of people leaving homelessness return to homelessness within 12 months of receiving housing,” says Alias. However, for Humble families, that number drops to one percent. She attributes that tremendous difference to “pride of ownership,” offering a greater overall sense of hope, a better future, and even a better social life — which can ultimately have a positive impact on generational homelessness. Put simply, says Alias, “Once this home feels like yours, you want to fight to keep it.” humbledesign.org   Deanna Murphy

Strasbergs: Photo by Cmon Team     All other Photography by Jonathan Lavan