For Marquel Brown, 39, the past 12 years have been the story of bad luck and good decisions.
From a young age, Marquel had a love for food. “I probably started cooking at nine or ten years old,” he remembers. “There’s nothing like a great sandwich, or making breakfast. I’ve always loved it.”
Marquel started culinary school and had his sights set on a career as a chef. But in 2001, a series of unfortunate incidents left Marquel homeless. There was a breakup with his girlfriend. There was a falling out with a family member. And then in 2005, he was severely beaten with a baseball bat, which left him with brain damage and chronic dizziness. He spent a month in the hospital recovering, and had to learn how to walk all over again.
It wouldn’t be his last set-back.
“I found a shelter and applied for housing as soon as I became homeless,” Marquel recalls. “Nine years later, my number came up, but I never received the letter. I couldn’t believe it – I had to re-apply after waiting nine years.”
Marquel worked to keep his focus. He took out loans so he could return to culinary school. With determination and focus, he continued to work towards his goal.“I’d stay at the Art Institute of Washington as late as I could, because you just can’t study in a shelter.”
In 2011, one of his bunkmates at the shelter mentioned Miriam’s Kitchen to him. Marquel was told that he could get fresh meals there, and that there were case management services that could help him.
“When I got to Miriam’s, I thought the food was the best kept secret in D.C.,” he recalls. “I had nutrition issues, I had very high blood pressure and cholesterol, and I’d already had a stroke. On top of that, I couldn’t afford my medication. In order to survive, I needed the fresh, nutritious meals that Miriam’s specializes in. Plus, I could get a multivitamin at Miriam’s each day.”
Marquel was staying the course, making the best decisions he could. And in 2013, his perseverance paid off. In July, he learned that his number had come back up; he was going to receive a housing voucher through the DC Housing Authority.
The day after his 39th birthday, Marquel moved into his apartment unit. His first purchase was a bottle of Ajax. His first home cooked meal was an egg sandwich. And his favorite feature is having his own bathtub.
Securely housed, Marquel proudly shares that he recently completed his Associates Degree for culinary arts – with honors. Not only does he have a diploma in hand, but he also has a wall to hang it on. He’s been able to manage his health so much better that his doctor has taken him off of the medications. With those feats accomplished, Marquel is now getting ready to pursue his two main goals.
“Someday, I want to be a personal chef. But first, I want to establish visitation with my children. That’s something you can’t do when you’re living in a shelter.”
As he steps forward into the next chapter of his life, Marquel credits Miriam’s Kitchen for providing a rock of stability in his world the past two years.
“It took me twelve years from the time I became homeless to the time I received housing,” he says. “I was working towards my goals, but I still needed nourishment and support. That’s what I found at Miriam’s Kitchen. It is a place where you can feel like you belong, and feel comfortable getting the help you need.”