Success Stories: Chapter 9 – Miriam’s Kitchen
“Miriam’s Kitchen is different. You don’t discriminate. You have the respect of the city, the people you serve, and you work hard together. That makes all the difference.” – a Miriam’s Kitchen client
Miriam’s Kitchen began as a soup kitchen in 1983. It has grown to a direct services agency that provides a range of services from meals to housing. Its mission is to end chronic homelessness in Washington, DC by honoring guest’s dignity, encouraging a sense of belonging, and bringing about lasting change.
This organization focuses on improving health outcomes for underserved people by improving access to high-quality medical and mental health care, coordinating care so clients can obtain ongoing, individualized services, helping clients obtain health insurance and disability income, and supporting eligible clients through all the steps of securing permanent housing.
This year the Qlarant Foundation continued support of Miriam’s Kitchen with a grant of $25,000. These funds support multiple programs including:
- A team of three professionally trained chefs that prepare over 70,000 meals annually
- The MK Outreach Team which takes the services they offer into the dining room while the people eat
- The Social Services Program which provides a variety of services including housing support, mental health services, health care and income assistance
- The Permanent Supportive Housing Program which helps individuals find housing quickly and make the difficult transitions from barely surviving on the streets to living more independently in individual apartments
- The Way Home Campaign, an advocacy program that engages 95 non-profit organizations and faith-based communities, private sector allies, and 5,000 citizens in the efforts to end chronic homelessness in Washington, DC
The evidence of the valuable services the Miriam’s Kitchen provides can be found in the stories of three of their clients. David’s story demonstrates how no one is immune from potential homelessness.
Success Story #1
David is a native Washingtonian. After earning a degree in communications, he became a successful businessman and built his real estate practice into a thriving career and even traveled the world.
When the real estate market crashed in 2008, David’s business collapsed. In a matter of months, he went from having everything you could dream of to having nothing. His house, his cars, his savings, his comfortable lifestyle: all gone. “I felt empty and at a loss,” he remembers. “I hated my life.”
To deal with the pain and disappointment, David started drinking and ended up homeless. “I had snow all over me, I was soaking wet, had bugs under my skin…it was a nightmare,” he says.
As despair consumed him, he became suicidal and ended up in the ER as many as 3 times a week. Physically, he was a wreck. Even worse, he felt hopeless—as if he couldn’t get out from under a dark cloud of despair that shadowed him everywhere he went.
Two years ago, David found his way to Miriam’s Kitchen. At first, he dropped by for a quick meal; received some clothing and then he would leave. However, over time, the delicious meals and friendly staff made him feel like someone cared. “Miriam’s Kitchen treated me like a human being,” David says. “They had faith in me and that helped me to have faith in myself.”
Miriam’s Kitchen Case Managers connected with David in the dining room as well as out on the streets. They helped him apply for benefits and for housing. “I’ll never forget the day Ger told me I was approved for housing,” David recalled. “It seemed surreal.”
David now lives in his own apartment in Petworth. He’s happier, his health has improved, and he’s laughing more—even joking with the new friends he’s making. “This place gave me a rebirth I could never have fathomed,” he says. “It’s miraculous!”
John and Joretta also have a compelling story to tell. The long-time couple were homeless for years but during that time and after, they worked to improve the lives of others in their situation.
Success Story #2
“When they ask me why I’m always smiling, I say, ‘I’m not out there. I’ve got a roof over my head. And I’m with her.” John and Joretta met at a protest years ago and have been fighting for their rights – and everyone’s rights -to gainful employment and affordable housing ever since.
John and Joretta came to be familiar faces in the dining room during the Great Recession. Often seen helping to set-up for Bingo, announcing the breakfast menu, or checking-in with other guests, the couple did what they could to pitch-in to the community. Whenever you saw one, you saw the other, unless one was at work. “Nothing comes from a sleeping man, but dreams,” John says. “We scrape nickels, dimes, and quarters together and we find a way to make it work. As long as we can look each other in the eyes, we know everything is going to be okay.”
Joretta has a few rules for the family: “Never run away from your problems. Never go to bed or wake up angry. And don’t say, ‘I can’t.’ We’ve been through hell and high water together. We’ve slept in the snow, we’ve slept in an old computer room, we’ve slept in quiet parks tucked away from the city that we called our ‘summer homes.’ But people in the community would look out for us.” John chimes in, “Just because we’re homeless, doesn’t mean we’re not human too. We may have not had the same opportunities as you, but we’re still humans – striving for what’s best for our family.
John reflects on the transition from homelessness to housing, “Miriam’s Kitchen kept us above water when we were swimming with the catfish. From the jolly volunteers, to the chefs, to the dining room and outreach staff. They were real with us. They never put us on a wild goose chase. You were looking out for the people that were overlooked. Bob and Ger were right there. You could tell they really cared and were concerned about us. Bob kept checking on us and updating us on the housing application process and Ger was a great advocate for us when we were working with the landlords. He made sure no one was pulling a fast one on us.”
Miriam’s Kitchen helps hundreds of highly vulnerable clients successfully navigate the interwoven web including the health care, mental health care, and health insurance systems, and agencies like Social Security, Housing Authority, Department of Motor Vehicles and Vital Records. Qlarant Foundation is pleased to be able to support Miriam’s Kitchen with the vital services the staff and volunteers provide to the thousands of homeless people in Washington, DC.