11.05.09 12:15 AM ET
Dream Houses for Charity
Diddy’s has a helicopter on top. Ludacris has a Lexus outside of his. And Vera Wang’s looks like a wedding dress. VIEW OUR GALLERY of mini-houses designed by celebrities to raise money for homeless families in NYC.
The women who run Women in Need, a nonprofit that provides shelter to 10,000 women and their children in New York City, are a garrulous, high-energy bunch. Their latest plan to raise money and awareness is one of many subjects that gets them excited. “We’ve never done anything like this,” said Robin White, senior vice president and director of development for the organization. Through word of mouth and the group’s strong ties to New York’s fashion community, the team at Women in Need convinced stars including David Beckham, P. Diddy, Justin Timberlake, and Halle Berry to construct stylish, signed mini-houses to be sold in an auction that they hope will raise tens of thousands of dollars in a tough year for philanthropies nationwide.
Click Image Below to View Our Gallery of Celebrity Mini-Houses
“We have a group of young women friends and colleagues and they spread out to all these celebrities and asked if they could do this,” White said. The houses—which range from P. Diddy’s helicopter-topped home to Vera Wang’s wedding dress-inspired creation—are all signed by their famous designers, and will live in the windows of Saks Fifth Avenue in New York before being auctioned off from Nov. 9.-Nov. 30 on Charity Buzz. The idea—a departure for the organization, which usually runs a more traditional annual gala fundraiser—became so popular among stars that the group actually ran out of houses to give them. When Victoria Beckham asked for a second house, they were afraid they wouldn’t have one to send her, panicking before eventually locating one for her to decorate. “It’s been one of those lightning strikes,” White said of the idea.
The auction couldn’t come at a better time. Homelessness is at a high in New York City, with an estimated 39,000 people—including 16,500 children—sleeping in municipal shelters each night. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who won a third term in Tuesday’s election, has attributed the rise in homelessness to the economic downturn, which has hit finance-fueled New York especially hard. But homelessness advocates, many still angry over Bloomberg’s 2005 decision to end Section 8 federal vouchers that allowed shelter residents to be shuttled into apartments, say their issue is being forgotten. The Bloomberg administration started a time-limited housing-voucher program in 2007, but advocates predict disaster when these subsidies run out, and many families will end up back on the streets or in shelters.
According to Women in Need, 80 percent of the city’s homeless are women and children. The group hopes to remodel a building close to their two existing shelters to provide 280 more units for homeless women and their families. While the structure is far less glamorous than some of the imagined homes up for sale—no helicopters, no Escalades—each family is housed in their own private space, and daycare is provided so women can search for work worry-free. “The reality is we really have the ability to change their lives. It’s very simple, we put roofs over people’s heads,” White said. They’re hoping to raise tens of thousands of dollars in the auction to contribute to the new shelter. Bonnie Stone, Women in Need’s CEO, notes that since homeless families can seem invisible in New York, such a high-profile, star-studded auction is exactly the type of innovative event needed to raise awareness. “It’s a hidden story,” Stone says.
Get Involved: Women in Need provides shelter for women and children in New York City.
Liz Goodwin is an assistant editor at The Daily Beast. She has written for the New York Sun, GothamSchools, the Tico Times, and Fodor's Travel Guides.