In early January we had to call an ambulance to take Roger, a long-time resident of our Second Ave boarding house, to the hospital. For several days prior he had been declining physically and mentally to the point where he couldn’t even walk to the bathroom. Our hope that day was that maybe a few days in the hospital would stabilize him so he could come back home. Roger is a fixture at the house and we would love to have him back. As I write this letter in late January we still don’t know what will become of Roger, but it’s looking like he won’t be returning to the house.
When I shared this story at our Monday morning Catholic Worker Mass in Redwood City, Larry Purcell of the Redwood CityCatholic Worker House remarked, “Another successful hospitality.” I was taken aback by Larry’s comment, but I knew what he meant. We got to know Roger as a regular guest at the dining room and shelter. He had been homeless for years and that life had taken a toll on him; when we brought him into the house he was getting to the point where he physically could no longer live outside. Roger found a home at our Second Ave house. For over ten years he had stable, decent housing, a community of friends who cared about him and looked after him, and a place where he could give back by helping keep the kitchen clean—he particularly loved washing dishes, which is always a sure fire way to gain popularity! He also brought great joy to the house with his “demented” humor. I also think of how Mike S., a resident of the house, cared for Roger the past several years: doing his laundry, shopping for him, changing his bandages, and helping him with electronics, like his phone and TV. Without Mike’s aid Roger would have been out of the house years ago. Instead, he was able to have several more years of independent living. So, yes, Larry was right, Roger’s time with us was a success.
Larry’s comment on success also made me think about what is “success.” To be honest, I’m not usually motivated by the traditional notion of “success”—How many people did you serve? How many people got jobs or housing? And so on. Instead I tend to focus on such questions as: did the dining room open on time? Is it a welcoming environment for our guests? Was there plenty of good food? Was there hot water for the shower? Do our boarding homes provide permanent affordable housing that the residents are proud to call home? Do we treat our guests with dignity and respect? My hope is that the answer to these questions is always a resounding “YES!” But to be honest there are times when the answer is “mostly, usually, could be better.”
We are continually trying to improve our facilities and the services we provide to our guests. To borrow a phrase from 12-step programs, “we seek progress not perfection.” If we have had any “success” over the years it’s been due to your continued support of our work, and for that we are very thankful. We hope that you will continue to help make our work possible through your generous donations.
In Christ’s Peace,
For all of us at
Catholic Worker Hospitality House