“This feels like a marriage,” said Schroeder Stribling, executive director of the N Street Village, of the first time she walked into Miriam’s House, with its couches, carpeted hallways and violet-colored walls.
Although Miriam’s House will continue to house up to 25 homeless women a year in a 17-bedroom apartment building in Northwest Washington, its board of directors has been dissolved. The transitional shelter is now a program of the N Street Village, also in Northwest, which offers housing, employment, health, and addiction counseling to at least 900 women a year, most of whom have a history of homelessness and mental health issues.
Stribling oversees programming at both locations, which will remain separate but share a uniform mission, budget and staff and will operate under the N Street Village name.
The merger may offer a glimpse into the future, as nonprofit agencies grapple with how to survive in an economy in which charitable giving has fallen and the need for services has risen. Funders have been encouraging organizations to consolidate for a while, Stribling said.
A Washington Grantmakers report this year on local giving shows that between 2008 and 2009, foundation giving in the region dropped 8 percent, forcing more organizations to collaborate. Some began sharing office space to reduce rent. Others jointly hired employees and swapped program services. The approach was, “You do health. We’ll do housing,” Stribling said.
Although only a few organizations in the Washington region have merged, there has been “heightened interest” in the idea, said Rick Moyers, vice president of programs and communications for the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation (whose founder was owner and publisher of The Washington Post), which supports 200 community-based nonprofit groups in the region, including the N Street Village.
Between 1995 and 2003, the foundation supported at most three organizations interested in merging, Moyers said. Since 2009, eight groups, including the N Street Village, have sought financial support to merge.
Like many others, the N Street Village started to feel the effects of the recession in 2008 and began pulling from its reserves. By the time the two organizations considered merging, Miriam’s House had depleted most of its reserves, said Tim Fretz, manager of foundation and government giving at the N Street Village and husband of Miriam’s House founder Carol Marsh.
Miriam’s House “was not in a sink-or-swim scenario” but was in no position to grow, Fretz said. Soon after executives met for the first time last November, the N Street Village began offering onsite mental health and employment services at Miriam’s House, which otherwise couldn’t have afforded them.
Stribling said she started thinking about how the two organizations could “put this partnership on steroids.”
In the next year, the N Street Village plans to launch Miriam’s Hope Program, offering HIV and AIDS testing, education and support to homeless women who live in the shelters or receive services from them.
“It pretty much feels like a family,” Juanita King said of the community of women and staff members she has gotten to know since moving into Miriam’s House.
After smoking crack for 20 years, spending more than a year in prison, getting a diagnosis of HIV and AIDS, and becoming homeless, King, 45, found a safe place in May to start anew. Now, she sleeps at Miriam’s House and joins yoga classes and groups for recovering addicts at the N Street Village.
Before the merger, King was weary about visiting another organization and adjusting to another set of rules. But she kept telling herself, “I just have to be ready for change.” Now, interacting at both sites has become a part of her daily routine, she said.
For women who prefer to stay in one place, health services, recreational activities and addiction recovery groups are available at both sites. Carol Marsh, who resigned as executive director of Miriam’s House in 2009, visits the apartments occasionally to knit with the women.
“We’re sitting and waiting for women to welcome them in and love them,” she said.