Hustle: How Miriam’s Kitchen is the Key to Housing
Doing whatever it takes to help people home.
This year marks the fifth anniversary of the Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) program at Miriam’s Kitchen. In that span, the program has grown from a staff of three serving 42 clients to a staff of 11 serving 176—with more growth projected in the coming year. More importantly, it has helped 203 clients move into and stay in housing. Below is an interview with Kierstin Quinsland, Director of Housing, reflecting on the growth and success of the program.
How is PSH different today than when it started?
We have become experts of the voucher and housing process—knowing where things can get stuck and how to move them along. We have also built strong partners. Before we had to cold call landlords through listings. Now we have a base of landlords who like working with us and call when they have units available. All these things add up and can take days or weeks off of a person’s experience of homelessness.
Some of our work has also changed. Now that clients have been in housing for five years, they need our help connecting to senior support services like home health aides so they can continue to age in the comforts of their own home.
What makes MK’s housing program different than others?
Our staff work very hard, we are willing to hustle to get the job done, and we don’t take “no” for an answer. We have a culture of hustle…where we expect things to move quickly; and if they don’t, we roll up our sleeves to make it happen.
Can you give an example of what you mean by hustle?
We had a client who was arrested on a false charge. His case was dismissed, but as he left the court, ICE agents picked him up. The case manager worked with the client (driving a few hours to where he was held) and got him connected to a pro-bono attorney—a feat in and of itself. Through continued hard work between the client, case manager, and the attorney, the client’s asylum request was approved and he has a safe place to call home.
While this incident goes way beyond the call of duty, it is an example of how our staff will go to great lengths to help clients overcome all sorts of barriers.
Where does that culture of hustle come from?
I think it comes from a combination of things. Staff are committed to guests and our mission of ending chronic homelessness in DC. Each time they see our clients experience discrimination, it fuels their intolerance of the status quo.
Behind all of that, we have an organization and amazing supporters giving us the resources and room for creativity to help guests obtain housing—whether that is paying for an application fee, combing through public records to locate and pay for a deed (that should have been provided by the landlord), waiting with a client at the social security office, or advocating for a pro-bono lawyer.
What keeps you up at night?
The ways in which systems don’t work for clients keep me up at night—like when unscrupulous landlords find ways to discriminate against voucher holders while still hewing to the letter of the law. Lately we have seen an increase of amenities fees, moving fees, and other fees that can weed out people who aren’t able to pay them. That is extremely frustrating, and why I am glad Miriam’s Kitchen works to reduce such practices at the city-level through our advocacy work.
What do you love about our guests?
We work with people during a very difficult period in their life—when they are still experiencing homelessness. We meet them outside on a park bench or at a shelter, and they have been burned by the system so many times. Then we have the tough job to convince them to take that leap of faith in the system again. We also get to be with guests on good days—like when they sign their lease and get their keys in hand. I love that people trust us and let us into their lives in that way. We call clients our guests, so it’s an absolute privilege to be welcomed into their homes as their guests.