“Moment for Mission”

14 October 2014

Kierstin Quinsland
Congregational Church of Brookfield (UCC)

October 14, 2014

“Moment for Mission”

Good morning, my name is Kierstin Quinsland.  I grew up in Brookfield and in this church, and was confirmed here in 1998.  After graduating from college at Fordham, I entered the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in 2008, a program that allows young people to work in direct service while living in Christian community.

The Jesuit Volunteer Corps assigned me to a job at Miriam’s Kitchen, a nonprofit in Washington DC that serves homeless men and women, and I still work there today!  Many of you might know of Miriam’s Kitchen from the collections of toiletries that the church often donates to us.  Miriam’s certainly knows of you!  The many, many boxes of donations that have arrived over the years have been a great gift to our organization, and especially to the homeless men and women who rely on our program.

Miriam’s Kitchen was founded 31 years ago by a coalition of faith communities and student groups to provide meals for their homeless neighbors.  It operates out of the basement of a Presbyterian church in Foggy Bottom, a neighborhood less than a mile from the White House.  When it was founded, Miriam’s was a small organization focused on serving healthy, natural breakfasts each weekday.  Since then, Miriam’s has grown dramatically to better address short-term and long-term needs of the chronically homeless community in DC. 

Our drop-in center now also provides dinner, art therapy and creative writing programs, and a very busy social service center, which is where I worked for four years as a social worker.  We also provide immediate services like clothing and toiletries, the very basics to help people feel comfortable, clean and dignified.  Without donations like yours, we cannot provide the toothbrushes, shampoo, socks, and such that help people living on the streets and shelters feel like people.  We assist in helping people make connections with other resources in the city, like mental health, substance use programs, applying for food stamps and social security, and job training programs.

Most people who experience homelessness are only homeless for a short time in their lives – often with some of the connections and referrals we make, they are able to return to work, return to family, or to receive emergency assistance until they can get back on their feet.  However, there is a smaller subset of the homeless population who are considered chronically homeless—who have been homeless for a year or more, or homeless several times in the last few years.  These are the people you might think of when you imagine a homeless person – the woman who you see sitting at the bus shelter night and day, responding to the voices she’s hearing, or the man who’s in and out of jails and emergency rooms and the park bench at any given time.  Often, a combination of mental health, substance use, and major medical issues contribute to someone being chronically homeless.

The long-term solution to chronic homelessness is simple: It is to house those who are homeless.  In the past, housing programs have been based on a “housing ready” model – once someone has gotten sober, and found a job, and is taking medications, then they ‘deserve’ housing.  Over the last few years, though, the prevailing model has shifted to a “housing first” model.  With Housing First, people are matched with what they need the most to end their homelessness—literally, they are given a home.  Once in an apartment, they have a stable foundation to address substance use, or they’re less anxious from living outside so their mental health gets better, and their visits to jail and reliance on hospital services decrease.

Miriam’s Kitchen just started a Housing First program this summer. and I serve as the director of that program. I can tell you first hand, Housing First works. It has been amazing to see people, some of whom have been on the streets for as long as twenty years, move into apartments and start to recover.  One man who will be moving in soon, Gerald, who has been homeless for six years, has a lot of anxiety and depression and is frequently in the hospital for it.  He told me that he is excited to move in because he feels his self esteem will get better when he has regular access to a shower and can keep his clothes clean and dry – he wants to re-establish a relationship with his children when he feels better about himself.  He said “I don’t think I’ll need to go to the hospital much anymore.”

Housing First programs like Miriam’s are growing around the country and it’s exciting to be a part of an organization that is so passionately addressing both immediate needs and system-level solutions.  I want to thank you for your continued support of our programs.  I have two boxes ready to take back to DC tonight that are overflowing with soap, deodorant, socks, and hand warmers, which will all help people feel safe, comfortable and clean, and which are critical for helping people feel dignified and hopeful enough to pursue changes that will make their lives better, and hopefully end their homelessness.

Thank you again!

Miriam’s Kitchen • 2401 Virginia Avenue, NW • Washington, DC 20037 • (202) 452-8926 • www.miriamskitchen.org

Working to end chronic homelessness
in Washington, D.C.

History and Mission: Miriam’s Kitchen is a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization founded in 1983 in response to an urgent need for services for the homeless in downtown Washington, DC. There are approximately 7,748 homeless people in Washington, DC and an estimated 1,785 of those individuals are chronically homeless – they’re homeless for extended periods of time, and struggle with one or more mental or physical disabilities. These are the people we serve. We advocate for permanent supportive housing as a long-term solution, while meeting their immediate needs in the following ways:

Meals: Miriam’s Kitchen serves breakfast and dinner Monday through Friday all year long, no matter the holiday or weather emergency. All of our meals are made with fresh ingredients and because much of our food is donated to us by local farmers markets and grocery stores, each meal has a food cost of less than $1. We serve 200-300 homeless people each day and in 2013 served more than 71,948 meals.

Case Management: A variety of supportive services are available to our guests each day. Our case managers work with guests and we also partner with many organizations who bring their services to our dining room. In a warm and welcoming environment, we help our guests with:

Mental health services Medical services Legal services

Assistance applying for benefits Therapeutic art classes Creative writing classes

Clothing and toiletries Use of phone and mailing address Help finding housing

Advocacy: Right now, there is not enough housing for our guests. Our advocacy efforts focus on engaging our community and policymakers to create and sustain enough quality permanent supportive housing in D.C.

Permanent Supportive Housing Services: On July 1, 2014 Miriam’s Kitchen began a contract to provide supportive services to 70 individuals in the Department of Human Services Permanent Supportive Housing Program. Miriam’s Kitchen serves as a coordinator and advocate between clients, their landlords and service providers, an essential strategy for long-term success. Case managers support clients’ goals for returning to an active life in the wider community with a broad spectrum of services, ranging from:

 monitoring their health and safety;

 helping them set and keep appointments with medical professionals, counselors and other professionals;

 developing budgeting and daily living skills;

 assisting them in efforts to find employment and benefits; and

 providing other more intensive physical and psychological interventions.


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