Catholic Worker Hospitality House of San Bruno - Providing meals and shelter in San Bruno, California.

Ella Chatfield-Stiehler

August Update

by Ella Chatfield-Stiehler

Dear Friends,

As one would expect, our work at Catholic Worker Hospitality House can often be depressing. We serve so many people at our dining room and shelter who have been homeless for years with little hope of finding permanent and decent housing. But last week I experienced a ray of sunshine when I was able to help Barry move into his own apartment.

Barry has been a guest at our dining room and homeless shelter for close to five years. While he is a nice guy, health issues have prevented him from maintaining steady work. I enjoyed seeing him everyday, but it saddened me that he seemed destined to spend the rest of his life living on the streets and in shelters. In 2019 and early 2020 Barry stayed at the shelter multiple times, totalling at least five months worth of time with us. This is highly unusual for us. We will give folks two weeks to a month to stay at the shelter maybe two or three times a year, but rarely do we give someone as much time as we gave Barry. We initially kept bringing him back into the shelter because he was a good guest. Then we extended his stay several times while he was working with outreach workers to get a voucher for permanent supportive housing.

His housing voucher came through the San Mateo County Department of Housing which several years ago started a program focused on providing permanent long-term affordable housing for chronically homeless individuals. Outreach workers from Lifemoves, a non-profit serving the homeless, shepherd folks through the vetting process to receive a housing voucher. Then Abode Housing Service works with the individual to find an apartment. It’s amazing. People who I thought would never get housing have found a home and stayed in it with the help of wraparound services provided by Lifemoves outreach workers and health care providers.

In our letters I usually play up our role in providing services to our guests. But in the above-mentioned process of arranging and finding permanent housing for chronically homeless individuals in our community we play a minor role. The folks at Lifemoves and Abode Housing Services do all the heavy lifting.

However, we do assist the process in a variety of small ways. Our dining room is a place where outreach workers can make initial contact with potential clients. We also make a room available as needed for the outreach workers to meet with clients during and after our regular service hours to fill out and complete paper work. Once a person is working with outreach workers we will provide extended shelter stays so they get stabilized and are available for meetings. And finally, once the person gets his apartment we assist in furnishing it.

Last Wednesday, Bruce told me he finally had the keys to his new apartment, but had nothing in it but a bed. I told him to meet me at our Second Avenue house the next morning and we would get his apartment furnished. At the Second Avenue house, we loaded up food, towels, bedding, and kitchen items into my truck. Then went to our Chapman house to pick up a dresser, chairs, TV stand, and more kitchen items. After taking that load to his apartment we went shopping at the South San Francisco St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Shop to get a dining table, coffee table, end tables, and sofa. On the way to his apartment we stopped at an area Target to get the remaining cleaning and kitchen items he needed. By the end of the day he had everything he needed for his apartment.

When I left Bruce’s apartment that afternoon after unloading the last load of supplies he had a stunned but happy look on his face. “I can’t believe I have my own place,” Bruce told me. He thanked me and the folks at Lifemoves and Abode Housing Services effusively for helping him get his new home. I congratulated him on his perseverance. “You did a great job of sticking with the process, especially when it got frustrating. Good things happen when you work hard and follow through with things. Keep up the good work. We’ll be there to assist you as needed.”

We are able to be that ongoing support to those in need in our community because of all the support we receive from you, our faithful supporters. Whether it is food, household items, or financial assistance you enable us to continue feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, and furnishing apartments of the newly housed. Thank you!

 

In Christ’s Peace,

Peter Stiehler
Director
Catholic Worker Hospitality House

July Update

by Ella Chatfield-Stiehler
COVID-19 UPDATE

In April I was repeatedly asked by our guests when we were going to return to our regular sit-down indoor serving and shower services at the dining room. Back then the hope was that by June or July things would get back to normal. But with COVID cases spiking after a lull in new cases, it’s clear that life will not be returning to normal anytime soon. In hindsight our desire for an early return to “normalcy” was quite naive. We hope, maybe also naively, that we can return to inside dining by the time the cold and wet weather returns in November. But realistically it most likely won’t be until a vaccine is developed – hopefully sometime in 2021. Until then we will continue doing what we’ve been doing the last few months – serving lots of hot and hearty meals to-go and sheltering four to six people at night. We remain focused on keeping our core service projects of the dining room and homeless shelter open and safe for our guests.

 

SUMMER VACATION

In early July we closed the dining room and shelter for a much needed week long vacation. We had skipped our usual spring vacation in April as we just could not justify closing down our essential services when so many other places were not open. Even though things are not totally opened up at present, there seems to be more places open for guests to go to for the services they need. Plus, we were pretty damn tired and I, at least, was getting a bit grumpy with our guests – a sure sign that it’s time for a vacation. Our regular vacations help keep us refreshed and nice to those we serve. It was great having some time off and it’s great being back at work at the dining room and shelter.

 

CHICKEN COOP REPAIR  
We have always had chickens at our house on Second Avenue in San Bruno. We love the fresh eggs and pastoral ambiance they give to the backyard. However, the chicken coop that I built over 20 years ago had recently started to look pretty bad – embarrassingly bad. So I, along with Mike from the Second Avenue house, updated the chicken coop. We replaced rotted boards and support beams. We also upgraded the roof by extending its coverage and replacing the tarps that were such an eyesore with plywood and shingles. Now the coop looks great and will be solid for another 20 years of service to our chickens.
As always, we thank you for your continued generous support of our work with those in need in our community.  It is through such kindness that we are able to continue feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, and comforting the afflicted.

Peace,

Peter Stiehler
Director
Catholic Worker Hospitality House

New Dining Room Staff Person

by Ella Chatfield-Stiehler

We have a new staff person working at the dining room, Mike DiCampli. Mike is a long-time friend and volunteer at the dining room and shelter. While we do not expect him to replace Christine (who could!), he will be a great help to Peter and the shelter staff. Welcome, Mike! It’s good to have you on board.

What to do with an incomplete sauna kit?

by Ella Chatfield-Stiehler

What do you do with an in-home sauna kit that you don’t have space for in your home and is missing parts of the heating element?  Well, that was the question I mulled over for several years.

My wife loves to take a sauna but I don’t enjoy it that much as I grew up in a sauna called Houston, Texas.  Several years ago a neighbor, knowing of my wife’s love of saunas, told us a friend of hers was giving away an in-home sauna kit.  I said, “No, thanks,” but my wife said, “Go get it.”  So guess what? I got it and put it in storage until we could figure out if it would work in our house.  Upon further reflection it became clear that it would not work in our house as we didn’t have space for it and we realized parts of the heating element were missing.  My first impulse was to trash it, but it was made of such beautiful cedar wood that I just couldn’t take it to the dump.  So what to do with it?

For three years it remained stored in the garage of one of our boarding homes.  I generally ignored it. But on occasion I would think, “What the hell do I do with this thing?”  Finally, it came to me: a meditation and prayer room.

So a couple of weeks ago, with the help of a couple of guys from our boarding home, I built a foundation, put the panels together, and put on a roof with shingles.  There is now a nice 5’ x 4’ room for prayer, meditation, or just to escape others. At the moment, I’m mainly the person who uses it, but occasionally one of the folks at the Second Ave house spends some time in it.

THANK YOU PHILANTHROPIC VENTURES FOUNDATION

by Ella Chatfield-Stiehler

The vast majority of the donations we receive come from the faithful support of individual donors and church groups on our mailing list.  This support enables us to keep our dining room, homeless shelter, and supportive housing projects going month after month and year after year.  We simply couldn’t continue our daily work without this support.  In order to ensure the steady and ongoing operation of our core service projects, we have to be judicious with how we spend these donations.  We often receive requests for assistance from our guests that we normally just can’t help with. We hate saying “no” to folks, but we would hate even more to not keep the dining room and shelter operating. What to do?

This spring we have received two very generous grants from Philanthropic Ventures Foundation to assist individuals in economic crisis caused by the COVID crisis.  These grants have enabled us to assist those we serve in a variety of ways: medical bills, car repairs, new glasses, household goods for former shelter guests moving into their own apartments, and rental assistance.  These grants enabled us to respond to the needs of those we serve in ways that would otherwise have been beyond our means.  Due to job loss caused by the COVID shelter in place orders, there were two individuals and three families that would have become homeless without the rental assistance we were able to provide because of the grants we received from Philanthropic Ventures Foundation.  It’s hard to underestimate the importance of this aid for those we serve.

For the twenty-four years Catholic Worker Hospitality House has been in operation, whenever we wanted to start a new project or do something big Philanthropic Ventures Foundation has been there to make our dreams a reality.  Some of the projects they supported have had a lasting effect on our work – such as helping us purchase or rehab buildings used for supportive housing.  Others have had short-lived or marginal success such as our idea for a day–labor program or funding a lawyer to assist our guest with their legal issues.  The Foundation was started by Bill Somerville to operate with the same mindset as a venture capitalist – supporting new and emerging endeavors.  As with all “investments” some fail while others are wildly successful.  You can’t have the success without risking failure.

So we say thank you Philanthropic Ventures Foundation for all your very generous support over the years.  Thank you for believing in us and taking risks to support our ideas for new ways to serve those in need in our community.  Your support has had a powerful and lasting impact in the community we serve.