Miriam’s Kitchen was founded in 1983 to meet the urgent needs of people experiencing homelessness in downtown Washington, DC. Three organizations – Western Presbyterian Church, Unity Church and the George Washington University Hillel – banded together to serve their neighbors. In the beginning, they served only breakfast. Soon they added case management, their therapeutic art program and they started serving dinner too. Their base of support grew from the original three organizations to hundreds of corporations and faith communities and thousands of individuals.
But after seeing the same individuals in their dining room year after year, they recognized that serving meals was not enough.
So they challenged themselves to think about homelessness in a bold new way. They asked “How do they put themselves out of business?”
This is why in 2012 Miriam’s Kitchen changed their mission from just responding to homelessness to fighting to end it. In doing so they held themselves accountable for every action needed to accomplish this goal:
Over the years they expanded their programs and built partnerships that brought nurses, social workers, psychiatrists and lawyers on site—all aimed to help their guests improve their health, increase their income and obtain housing
They established a housing program to make sure that when clients move into housing, they have the support they need so they don’t fall back into homelessness;
They added an advocacy program—because they’re trying to end homelessness not just for the guests that walk through their doors, but for all individuals who are experiencing long term homelessness in DC;
And they recently received a federal grant to launch a new Street Outreach Program, which takes the quality services that they provide in their dining room onto the streets—wherever individuals experiencing homelessness might be (under bridges, in parks, in museums…)
The good news is that they are making progress in ending chronic homelessness in DC! Chronic homelessness in DC has declined 19.7% from 2012 (when they changed their mission) to 2016. Additionally, MK and their partners have helped house more than 1,570 veterans since 2013!
How did they get the name Miriam’s Kitchen?
As an organization founded by a collaboration of three religious organizations (Western Presbyterian Church, United Church and George Washington University’s Hillel), it’s only fitting that their name have biblical origins.
According to the Bible, as the people of Israel traveled to the Promised Land, Moses’ sister Miriam was forced to live in isolation (and with a bad case of leprosy) outside of the main encampment as punishment for questioning Moses’ authority. Moses eventually intercedes and asks God to allow Miriam to be re-integrated into the people. After a punishment lasting seven days, God relents and heals Miriam.
Miriam was chosen as their namesake as their founders saw a parallel between Miriam being forced to live in isolation and the lives of isolation their guests experience. As their organization began, their goal was to bring those guests back into ‘camp’, just as Miriam was, so that they too can heal and enjoy the same dignity and comforts as the rest of them.
Where is Miriam's Kitchen