I recently joined a strategic planning meeting for a former client, Miriam’s Kitchen, as a participant. As a strategic planning junkie, the meeting was a dream. At least a dozen times over the course of the meeting, I heard Miriam’s Kitchen team members ask “How would [x potential priority] advance our goal of ending chronic homelessness?” It was if the question was tattooed on someone’s forehead.
That type of focus on the end goal is impressive for any organization. But it’s especially impressive for Miriam’s given that four years ago, the idea of ending chronic homelessness was revolutionary. Who were they to think they could end chronic homelessness? And what would that possibly mean for their work?
At Community Wealth Partners, we like to talk about dreaming forward. We like to think about what it would take to solve a social problem. But more than anything, we like to partner with groups that are serious about transformative change.
Four years ago, we had the privilege of partnering with Miriam’s Kitchen. At the time, they were focused on providing high-quality meals and services to homeless individuals. They had been doing so since 1989 and were often commended for their work. But to the team at Miriam’s, the fact that they had been serving homeless individuals for over 20 years wasn’t a point of pride, but rather a point of frustration. It highlighted the fact that their work, while valuable, wasn’t addressing the root of the problem. Driven by the injustice of the issue, the knowledge that there is a solution and the proof that other cities had solved homelessness, Miriam’s knew that while uncomfortable, they had the potential to solve the larger problem.
We partnered with Miriam’s team to dig into what this new goal would mean for their work, their funding and their communications. They asked the hard and uncomfortable questions of each other, their guests, volunteers and funders. To some, even the idea that they could end homelessness in their community seemed impossible. But they came together as an organization, examined their assets and strengths, and developed a strategy that was laser-focused on what needs to be done to end chronic homelessness.
To realize the strategy and reach their goal to end homelessness, Miriam’s team pivoted their work. They added advocacy staff. They helped to initiate the Way Home Campaign, a collaboration of organizations focused on ending homelessness in DC. They started to provide Permanent Supportive Housing services. They made their goal drive their work and that ethos has become ingrained in all that they do.
And it’s not just in their actions. Most importantly, it’s in their results. This spring, the DC City Council passed a historic budget that fully funds The Way Home Campaign’s top priorities, to the tune of more than $160 million dollars. In four short years, the Miriam’s Kitchen team and their collaborative partners have gone from convincing themselves that ending homelessness is possible to helping to convince the general public and city council members that it’s possible.
By “dreaming forward” through persistent focus on a new, bold end goal, Miriam’s Kitchen has turned what seemed an impossible goal into not just a reality, but also a tremendous success.