Sue Bell

District Of Columbia

Marvin Fields move-in 5 19 14.jpg

Man standing in front of apartment building.

Marvin Fields moving into his new home, May 2014. Photo courtesy of Miriam's Kitchen

DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities provides financial support to Miriam's Kitchen, a social service agency whose mission is to end chronic homelessness in Washington, DC.

As a staff member of Miriam's Kitchen I see how the arts help bring about lasting and life-saving change for our guests—men and women who are currently experiencing homelessness. We focus on a specific sub-segment of the homeless population, adults who are chronically homeless—which means that we target our services to individuals who have been homeless for more than a year and who face disabling challenges like mental illness, medical problems, and/or substance abuse.

For some people who have lived in the street for years, their mental illnesses or trauma make it difficult for them to seek our help, or even accept help. Our approach is about building relationships with our guests through delicious meals, a welcoming dining room, and friendly case managers.

Here is the true story of one of our guests for whom art therapy proved to be life changing. We say that art therapy helps people "get what's on the inside out," and engaging Marvin through art proved to be a winning strategy.

Six years ago, Marvin first arrived at Miriam’s Kitchen. Struggling with a complex health issue and living with chronic pain, Marvin was often uncommunicative. Most days he’d stand quietly outside Miriam’s Kitchen with his shopping cart full of belongings. And while he would regularly join us for meals and certain case management services, it remained challenging to help him. But our case managers never stopped encouraging him to access the services he needed. They never gave up on him.

Art therapy turned out to be Marvin’s game changer. It became his way to express himself when he wasn’t up for talking. He began with mandalas (sacred circles) and moved on to jewelry making. And it became the foundation for our case managers to earn his trust, and to help him consider accepting permanent supportive housing.

In May 2014, after countless Miriam’s Kitchen meals and case management services, Marvin slept in his own bed for the first time in six years. Miriam’s Kitchen staff joined staff from our valued partner Pathways to Housing DC to help Marvin load his belongings into the MK van. Chef Steve added a few frozen meals, drove them over and they all helped Marvin settle in. Together we’re helping Marvin maintain his home and thrive in his new life.