Those committed to social justice are true heroes, serving our most fragile and vulnerable in spite of, sometimes in defiance of facing decreased grants and funds from traditional sources. Clients of social service agencies trend below the radar, they haven’t been affected by losses in their 401K, they’re not losing their McMansions, nor worried about their year end bonuses, just getting through another day is challenge enough.
On a given night, approximately 664,000 people are homeless, nearly 1.6 million people use emergency or transitional housing programs over the course of a year, more than 124,000 are chronically homeless (one year or more), 36.5 percent are chronic substance abusers, 26.3 percent are severely mentally ill, and about 15 percent are veterans.* They can be the most difficult to connect with agencies that can help them.
Yes, there have always been the chronically homeless, but two occurrences happened to make the issue increase exponentially: the 1980s Reagan years when institutions rapidly emptied, without the promised Community Clinics and compassion fatigue by families no longer able to cope, hence homelessness where once a family would feel obligated to take in their own. A revolving door of mental illness, substance abuse, chronic illness and a criminal history perpetuates the difficulty placing people into jobs, however menial and keeps them out of the mainstream.
Reversing the Downward Spiral
The Obama Administration and HUD (Housing & Urban Development) www.hud.gov and www.espanol.hud.gov announced $1.4 Billion awarded in homeless grants, to renew funding to 6,445 local programs. More than $738 million is being awarded to 2,997 projects that provide permanent housing solutions for homeless families and individuals, including persons who are chronically homeless. More than 3,200 local projects that serve families with children will receive over $733 million. Local programs across the country will receive funding in order to continue operations in assisting the homeless or transitional services. Earlier this year, HUD allocated an additional $1.5 billion through its new Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-housing (HPRP) Program. Made possible through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, HPRP is intended to prevent persons from falling into homelessness or to rapidly re-house them if they do.
Miriam’s Kitchen is housed in the basement of Western Presbyterian Church, wedged between the Watergate and the campus of The George Washington University. Founded in 1983, Miriam’s serves a hot, nutritious breakfast with warmth and dignity to needy persons every weekday. Healthy food is donated from or gleaned by Western’s church members and kitchen volunteers from the local farmers markets, the food bank and upscale grocery stores. The kitchen policy according to Adam Rocap, LICSW, Director of Social Services, is that they will serve their guests what he would feed his young son, i.e. no donuts, pasta or other items with empty calories.
The Kitchen serves about 200 persons each weekday with a staff of full- and part-time employees and over a thousand volunteers from throughout the greater Washington area and around the United States. So popular is the program, there is a six month wait list to serve at breakfast. And beginning on January 18th, Martin Luther King Day, they will expand to a dinner program, serving 150-200 people each weekday night with the need for an additional 1,000 volunteers, chefs and case management staff.
Miriam’s Kitchen Executive Director, Scott Schenkelberg gave the following stats: “There are more than 6,000 homeless men, women and children in Washington, D.C. on any given night. Of those, nearly 1,200 are chronically homeless — meaning they have been homeless for a year or more, or four or more times in the past three years. Sixty percent of our guests are chronically homeless nearly 75 percent of our guests live on the streets of DC, in parks around the city, under the bridges along the Potomac River, and in emergency shelters. Only 25 percent of our guests are in transitional or permanent supportive housing. They are working with HUD and city grants to place the most fragile into supportive housing. Approximately 96 percent of our guests are male, 70 percent are African-American and the median age of our guests is 48. Western Presbyterian Church has benefited with strong mission work, including an Urban Mission serving Miriam’s Kitchen and beyond, attracts socially active volunteers, and an affinity for their church, a win-win for everyone.”
First Lady, Michelle Obama surprised guests of Miriam’s Kitchen last spring with a lunch that focused on serving garden fresh vegetables in a safe, warm and understanding setting.
Students preparing food for the D.C. Central Kitchen Cookoff
Michelle Obama’s Challenge: 100,000 Volunteer Hours by May 2010
The George Washington University: Students, Alumni, staff and faculty: GW has a special reason to step it up in their commitment to help at Miriam’s Kitchen and D.C. Central Kitchen and others due to First Lady Michelle Obama’s service challenge of 100,000 volunteer hours in order to be the GWU Commencement speaker this May on the Mall in front of the Capital. Watch First Lady Michelle Obama on Veteran’s Day at GWU talking about the challenge:
December 24, 2008: Yoshio Nakada, 61, a homeless man, was murdered in his sleep on Christmas Eve near Miriam’s Kitchen, George Washington University and the Watergate Complex. It is believed Nakada suffered blows to the head from a hatchet. The case has not been solved. Unfortunately, Mr. Nakada joins an increasing list of homeless hate killings. Check out Huffington Post’s Brian Levin’s piece.
DC Central Kitchen: Blocks from the US Capital, Richard freely admitted the life he had chosen to live, beginning as a 13-year-old: heroin abuse, running with the wrong crowd kept him in and out of institutions most of his life, was of his own doing. For Gerald, aged 17 when he also fell into the wrong crowd, spent most of his life behind bars, even cooked in the prison’s kitchen and now has a job while attending the DCCK’s Culinary Jobs Training course. Brittany at age 20 had a different reason, without family, she is starting anew and gaining the self-assuredness of a chef in training.
Visiting Chefs teach the students the nuances of sauce making, or knife work while the holistic team approach for each of the 25 students starts each day with the morning teaching life skills: resume writing, job and interview skills and spend the afternoon learning their craft in well appointed kitchens. The program success rate has 85% of the graduates finding employment within 1 month of graduation, helping make the transition to self-sufficiency. DCCK’s yearly budget is $5 million dollars, 60% of the food is purchased locally, 1 & ½ tons of food procured or recycled, to make 4,000 + meals daily. All graduates have completed the ServSafe Food Protection Manager’s Certification Course, the nationally recognized course from the National Restaurant Association’s Educational Foundation.
Recently, midway through the 12 week course was a Venison Chili Cook-off, ala Top Chef, with four assigned teams charged with creating an original recipe using donated Venison, the result of a new partnership with Farmers & Hunters Feeding the Hungry (FHFH) that has already provided about 6,000 pounds of lean, hormone- and antibiotic- free venison for use in some of the 4,000 meals prepared each day. Student teams delegated tasks and upon presentation to the judges and explanation of ingredients, in the end, Team Hot & Spicy won the challenge with peppery Tex-Mex combination of meat, tomatoes, onion, peppers and cocoa.
DC Central Kitchen’s Fresh Start Catering is the catering arm and generates 50% of the working revenue, specializing in high end gourmet breakfasts and lunches. They are contract food suppliers to schools and public institutions, employ DCCK grads that cater to private law offices and public functions with flare. DCCK’s CEO, Mike Curtain referred to the catering arm; “It is like 7 digit philanthropy; (202) 234-0707 x125 helps the students, recycles unused food, feeds the hungry, and is important for foundations supporting us that we are able to show revenue coming in.”
Street Sense: a DC-based 16-page biweekly street newspaper that was founded in 2003. Its mission is to raise public awareness on the issues of homelessness and poverty in the city and to create economic opportunities for people experiencing homelessness. The newspaper features news, features, editorials, poems and art about homelessness and poverty and other social issues. About 50% of the paper is written by homeless and formerly homeless individuals, and the other articles come from our staff and volunteers, who include journalists, students, advocates and a wide variety of other professionals. Street Sense is one of about 20 street papers in the United States and more than 90 worldwide. Street papers drastically vary in size and circulation but produce social-issued focused newspaper sold by vendors who make an income on newspaper sales. For more information on other street newspaper or background on street papers in general visit www.nasna.org.
FareStart: www.farestart.org provides a 16 week comprehensive culinary training program within their restaurant open to the public for lunch Monday through Friday. This program prepares homeless and disadvantaged men and women for jobs in the restaurant and hospitality industry and helps them to keep those jobs.
With intake every Tuesday, they have 40-60 trainees at anytime learning the back of the house ropes along with case management, interpersonal skills, resume crafting and job resources and referrals. Spokesperson Karla Smith-Jones notes there has been a large uptake in the number of people coming in for the initial intake procedures. At the restaurant and a café at another location, business has been steady, with an average $11 meal check but they have had a harder time filling their special Guest Chef evenings, where $24.95 gets you a 3 course meal by one of the sought after visiting chefs.
FareStart’s Catering, the revenue generated goes directly to support the FareStart job training and placement program, helping students transform their lives and build new futures. In addition to providing critical funds for the program, FareStart Catering also offers students the experience of preparing elegant, gourmet, and personalized cuisine for their customers.
St. Joseph’s Center: Since 1976 they began addressing the needs of the homeless, the working poor and those threatened with homelessness at seven sites on the Westside of Los Angeles. St. Joseph Center serves approximately 6,000 individuals annually with all encompassing services and case management for Individuals, Families, the Homeless and Senior Citizens. From the working poor to chronic homelessness, each person is treated with understanding and compassion with dignity.
Development Director Paul Rubenstein, pointed out that by addressing the needs of 40 of the most chronic who may otherwise not survive the streets, with supportive housing, intensive casework, they have reduced the gathering of others hanging out on the streets.
The Center’s Bread and Roses Café serves up to 150 hot meals in a welcoming restaurant style setting, complete with tablecloths and servers. The meals are a conduit to segue guests to the St. Joseph’s network of longer term case work, bringing the services needed to the people who need it in a dignified atmosphere. Attendees are among the most vulnerable of St. Joseph Center’s clients. They include homeless men, women and families who lack access to medical and mental health care and may be struggling with substance abuse.
Culinary Training Program Founded in1989 trains unemployed adults in food service and life skills. The goal of the Culinary Training Program is to break the cycle of poverty by giving individuals with barriers to employment the skills they need to succeed in the food service industry. CTP holds seven 10-week sessions each year in a new facility that would have chefs envious of the gleaming stainless cooking stations.
During the first six weeks of each session, students complete 104 hours of coursework in three modules: Culinary Theory, Measurements and Sanitation; Life Skills; and Job Search Strategies. Students have daily experience in the kitchen consisting of observation and preparation of a variety of recipes selected by the Culinary Instructor. Students receive a training manual, uniform (close-toed shoes, pants and black shirt) and use of a culinary tool kit. Students may also participate in catering events for local organizations or community fairs on behalf of St. Joseph Center,receiving a stipend for their work.
Following this six-week classroom training, students complete a four-week, 80-hour externship. Externships are often completed at the nutrition departments of Westside hospitals including Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica. Other placements include privately owned fine dining restaurants from around Los Angeles. Students learn about customer service and food preparation in a “real-world” work environment. These externships provide students with a recent, verifiable job experience and references they can use during their job search. Upon completion graduates receive a new chef coat to ensure that they have the proper attire for their new jobs. They are assisted with job placement by the Program Manager and have access to St. Joseph Center computers and printers for résumé preparation and, if they lack a permanent residence, can receive phone calls at the CTP office.
Westport, CT: Homes with Hope: One of only 4 programs for the homeless in an affluent suburb in the U.S. For 25 years, with emergency and long term supportive faculties, job training, mentoring and supportive services, food and meals (30,000 per year) and the life skills training critical in preventing homelessness from reoccurring. for individuals and families, with a professional staff, (caseworkers with an C-MSW or higher) and the help of more than 400 volunteers,
Homes with Hope assists people who have lost their ability to lead normal lives. Their mission is to provide a structured environment that enable homeless people in the communities they serve to achieve an independent and self-sufficient life, preventing homelessness from reoccurring.
*Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) released by HUD in July 2009
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