Collaboration From the Bottom Up

Published Jan 22, 2015

By Rebecca Koppel and Karin Lavie

Social service agencies with similar missions are frequently in competition for adequate funding, talented staff members, and control of policies. The fight over these limited resources leads to inefficient care and serves as a distraction from the real problem. Fortunately, AVODAH corps members have unique access to over a dozen antipoverty organizations throughout the city because of our corps member connections. We are able to facilitate relationships that inspire collaboration over competition.

Miriam’s Kitchen and Pathways to Housing are both AVODAH placements and are both committed to ending chronic homelessness in DC. As a case manager at Miriam’s Kitchen, Rebecca develops trusting relationships with guests who come into the facility, provides referrals and information, and engages individuals in clinical case management. As an outreach specialist at Pathways to Housing, Karin works on the streets to engage individuals in need of services, assess their needs, and work with them to create and implement plans to meet those needs.

Although the two organizations already collaborate on the advocacy level with the Way Home Campaign, we saw an opportunity for them to increase that collaboration on a daily basis. The directors of the programs and the staff who had worked for both organizations realized and acted on the opportunity for a partnership, but we wished to further this alliance and to include all of our co-workers. After realizing the overlap in our work and clients, we organized a meeting between the ten Miriam’s Kitchen case managers and the nine Pathways to Housing outreach specialists.

We laughed about how both organizations had decided to bring donuts as a snack and shared our names, job titles, and dream celebrity parents. One person from each organization provided a short summary of the services provided, the daily tasks completed, and the scope of the work performed. We were nervous before the meeting that we, as two of the most recent newcomers to the issue of the housing crisis in DC, would have to forcefully lead the conversation into unfamiliar territory, but conversation flowed naturally and potential collaboration points emerged.

Staff from both organizations during their collaboration meeting.


We realized the ways we could refer clients to each other in order to fill in the gaps in services and the methods we could use to fully educate individuals about the capabilities of each organization. One of the most frustrating parts of our jobs is when we develop relationships with homeless individuals and need to follow up or relay important information, but are unable to find them. This missed connection can and does lead to missed opportunities for housing. One of the most important discoveries from this meeting was that there is a huge opportunity to collaborate when trying to locate individuals.  The outreach specialists at Pathways to Housing can search the streets and the case managers at Miriam’s Kitchen can monitor the hundreds of people who walk through the doors daily to coordinate communication.

Just as the District of Columbia is implementing a coordinated effort to end chronic homelessness, social service agencies can work together to achieve this common goal. AVODAH corps members have the distinct opportunity to be liaisons between antipoverty organizations in the city. In this role, we can all work together towards fighting poverty.

Rebecca Koppel is from San Diego, California, attended Wesleyan University, and is a Case Manager at Miriam’s Kitchen.

Karin Lavie is from Glenview, Illinois, attended University of Michigan, and is an Outreach Specialist at Pathways to Housing.

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