On a Thursday evening in late July, a water main broke at St Bruno’s church, thus shutting off the water to the building where we operate our dining room and homeless shelter. We were able to keep the shelter open that night, but without water we could not operate the dining room as usual the next morning and all we were able to do was serve coffee and cold cereal to go. While folks were understanding of the situation, they were really upset that they had no access to toilets (“Oh man, I really gotta go.”). We often don’t realize how important access to toilets are to those we serve until they are not available. When we talk about our work we usually emphasize the showers, food, and shelter we offer to our guests, which are obviously important, but for people who are homeless, access to toilets is a vital need and a constant struggle to find. Every morning we make sure to open the bathrooms in the adjacent building even before we open the dining room. Whether it’s relieving bodily functions or washing up, access to a bathroom is the first thing many of our guests want when they arrive. For those of us with homes and resources, we rarely if ever have to deal with this reality. Whether it’s at home, a store, or restaurant, we always have access to facilities.
I have long felt that “provide toilets to those who need to go” should be added to the list of the Works of Mercy. This may educe a snicker, but when we really think about it we know it’s true. Being able to relieve oneself or wash up is such a basic human need that access to facilities, or lack thereof, strongly affects our dignity and self-worth.
Thankfully, repairs to the broken pipe were quickly made on Friday morning and everything was back to normal by the time we opened the shelter on Friday evening. This episode really brought home to us the importance of the bathroom services we provide to those who are homeless in our community. We do our best to make sure we have plenty of clean, functioning bathrooms for those we serve, and quickly fix any messes, clogs, leaks, or whatever that may hamper their utility.
I hope you are sitting down as you read this, because I am very happy to announce that the ADU (auxiliary dwelling unit) we have been building since September 2021 is finally occupied.
This new permanent affordable housing we have created is currently occupied by three long-time residents of the “main house” at 672 2nd Avenue in San Bruno. On Thursday, July 14 the first resident moved in and on Sunday, July 17 the remaining residents moved in. The morning after his first night in his new room Fletcher greeted me in the driveway with a big smile and a “high five” saying, “I love my new room!” It was the most emotion I had ever seen from this normally staid individual. As an elderly man in his late 70s with bad legs Fletcher is happy to have a ground level bedroom instead of one on the second floor. His new living arrangement will definitely improve his quality of living and extend the years he will be able to live independently. I also have received repeated sincere thanks from Mike and Jen, the other new ADU residents, “You really outdid yourself this time. The place is not only beautiful, but it feels like a real home. Thank you!”
The move of these individuals in the ADU opened up two rooms for new residents in the main house. They moved in a couple of days later, after I had time to clean and paint the vacated rooms. The first, Mark, had been a long-time guest at our homeless shelter. He really appreciates being able to come home directly after work instead of biding time at a coffee house or library until the shelter opens. The other, Becky, had been living in a not-nice-at-all boarding house. She is happy to live in a house where she actually likes the people she’s living with now and doesn’t feel the need to hide out in her room to avoid bad roommates. Needless to say, but all these new residents are so glad to have permanent affordable housing that is safe, welcoming, and communal. Mark and Becky too have been effusive in their thanks for their new housing. Seeing how happy and grateful these five people are has made all the work, stress, and expense of the project well worth it.
While all the thanks have been directed to me, in reality the thanks belongs to all of you whose generosity, whether large or small, enabled us to build this beautiful new home and to maintain the existing home. So I accept their thanks, but pass them on to you.
“Over the past six to eight months, I have been bemoaning in our appeal letters delays in this project. While the work on the ADU did not move as quickly as I expected or wanted, the contractor’s bid was $100,000 less than other contractors which is why I chose him. And in my opinion a five to seven month delay is well worth saving $100,000!”
When we started this project I really thought that we would have to go into debt to complete it. But thanks to your great generosity, picking an inexpensive contractor, and doing a fair amount of work myself, we have been able to complete this project without going into debt. While we are not in debt, finishing this project in late summer, when our funds are generally low, is forcing us to be extra careful with our spending. As always, we are deeply thankful for your generous support of this project and all our work with those in need in our community, and make a plea for your continued generosity which enables us to maintain our usual services at the dining room and Shelter as well as putting the final touches on the new house.
In Christ’s Peace,
For all of us at
Catholic Worker Hospitality House