This Midwest Nonprofit Helps Families Transition Out of Homelessness with Dignity
When Treger Strasberg asked her neighbors to donate furniture for an acquaintance transitioning out of homelessness, she found herself with a surplus. Her one-time act of kindness became a new beginning for her and others when she and her husband, Rob, co-founded Humble Design.
When did you first recognize help was needed for this underserved group?
TS: I was volunteering at a nonprofit in Detroit and became friendly with a woman who revealed to me she was homeless with her two children. It changed my life. I'd never come face to face with anyone who was homeless, so I had all these wrong assumptions about what homelessness was and what it looked like.
How did the idea for Humble Design come about?
TS: I went to visit my friend when she found a place and I realized that in my ignorance, I thought there would be furniture for her and her family to rebuild their lives. But I walked in on were four empty walls. Her children were making nests on the floor with winter coats where they would sleep. I understood my privilege in that moment and reevaluated how I looked at the world. I wanted my friend to feel comfortable and loved in her new space.
You turned to the community to collect everything from couches to linens — everything your friend needed to set up a home. What happened next?
TS: All of this furniture kept coming and coming. I had couches on my front lawn and cribs in the driveway and I didn't know what to do, so I started calling around to homeless shelters and asking where I could donate these goods to people moving back into homes. All the calls were the same: There's no one who does that, and there's actually a big hole in the system.
Did you know how to start a nonprofit?
TS: I had no idea what a 501C3 was and no background in this area, but all I wanted to do was figure out how to help. I started running the organization out of my garage, then my friends' garages and storage units. Eventually we got everything set up along with warehouses and trucks.
How does Humble Design work?
TS: We have interior designers who meet with the family the week of their move. They ask about their style and what kind of home they've always dreamed of. A lot of our clients are single mothers, and we see them light up when they talk about their kids' favorite things. The designers then scour our warehouses to put together furniture and decor, work with volunteers to set it up, and three days later, we welcome the family home.
What's the big reveal like?
TS: When the family sees their home fully furnished for the first time and you get to be there to see the kids walk into their rooms, it has a profound effect. I can't think of another opportunity that allows that massive impact for the volunteers. I cry every time.
Beyond physical possessions, what is the real difference you're making?
TS: Let's be honest — furniture is not at the top of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Coffee tables and slow cookers are not food and water. But having a home they're proud of means these families are settling into a neighborhood, meeting their neighbors and shifting from survival mode into long-term planning. That community is meaningful.
How many people have you helped so far?
TS: We are now in five states helping an average of 13 families every week. To date, we've helped furnish homes for more than 7,800 individuals.
Learn more about Humble Design and find ways to give or volunteer.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.