Provider Profile: So Others May Eat (SOME)
It’s around 2:30 on a Tuesday afternoon, and the dining hall at So Others Might Eat (SOME) is almost empty. In the adjoining kitchen, some volunteers are cleaning up from the meal that was served just over an hour earlier. In the dining hall itself the tables are bare, except for the plates, cups, and utensils that have been placed on the table for Wednesday’s breakfast.
It’s quiet here now, but this is unusual. Mary Cobbs, the dining room coordinator, said that the dining hall is full at breakfast and lunch, and that, typically, more than 800 meals are server here every day to Washington’s homeless population.
But SOME does much more for the homeless than serve food. What began as a soup kitchen in 1970 has become a “comprehensive social service agency” whose mission is “first meet people’s immediate needs and then to help them overcome what keeps them homeless and destitute,” according to the organization’s website.
To accomplish this mission, SOME provides what they call immediate services, which include food programs, clothing and shower rooms, and health services. It also provides rehabilitative services that include addictions recovery, job training, transitional housing, long-term housing, and services to the elderly and mentally ill.
The extensive services that SOME provides is reflected in the organization’s physical space: in addition to the building at 71 O Street, NW, that houses that dining hall, they have over 600,000 square feet of building space in the District, according to Jim Palmer, the administrative director.
“This [place] has worked miracles in quite a few people’s lives,” Cobbs said, “and it continues to.”
In 2003 alone, SOME, aided by 211 paid employees (around 25% of whom are formerly homeless) and around 1,500-2,000 volunteers per month, according to Palmer, served over 293,000 meals. The organization also provided more than 13,000 people with free clothing and shelter, 8,000 people with medical or dental care, and 12,000 individuals with group counseling sessions. SOME also provided permanent housing for more than 230 homeless men, women, and children and intensive job training for 247 homeless and extremely low-income women and men, according to their website.
And those are only a portion of the services SOME provided.
“There’s really a whole continuum of care that really allows people to be lifted up above homelessness,” Palmer said. “The care is offered in a respectful way, and I think people feel dignified when they receive service here.”
But they don’t force their clients to use their services. “It doesn’t work if it’s forced,” Cobbs said. “They have to want it more than you want it for them. If the person is reaching out for something, we’ll be there to reach down and pull them up.”
And the clients seem to appreciate this approach. “The staff is pretty courteous; they’re pretty polite. I’d say [the organization] is fairly well-run,” said August Mallory, a client of SOME’s and formerly homeless.
Though Palmer says the organization’s biggest challenge is the lack of affordable housing in the DC area, he believes that SOME has affected change. At the end of January, in fact, they will begin construction on apartment facilities that will be able to house 21 families.
“I really think [our] greatest accomplishment,” Palmer said “is the role we play in changing the lives of those who seek change.”