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

Ella Chatfield-Stiehler

September Appeal: Completed ADU with Photos

by Ella Chatfield-Stiehler

SEPTEMBER 2022

Dear Friends,

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.

 

ADU OCCUPIED!

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,

Peter Stiehler
For all of us at
Catholic Worker Hospitality House

 

June Appeal

“Roger, you HAVE to go to the hospital, TONIGHT, NOW! I can drive you, but you have to go.“ I stumbled onto this conversation on the back porch of our Second Ave boarding house in mid-April. Mike S., with back up from Howard, was urging Roger to go to the hospital as he had complained of copious amounts of blood in his stools and urine. I too supported Mike’s insistence and offered to drive as I was leaving shortly to pick up Jennifer who was visiting her husband, Mike D., at San Mateo County Hospital (more on that later). Roger relented without much of a fight as even he realized the seriousness of his situation.

I often categorize the people who live at our Second Ave boarding house in San Bruno as a bunch of grumpy old men who generally mind their own affairs and only interact on the smoking porch. As in most stereotypes this contains a kernel of truth, but not the whole truth. The residents of the house do care for each other and do what they can to ensure the well being of each other.

When I returned from the hospital I complemented Mike on his concern for Roger’s well being. I’ve known for a while that Mike helps Roger, but I didn’t realize how much. Roger is elderly, overweight, and has difficulty walking, particularly going up and down stairs, due to bad knees. So Mike does his laundry; makes minor food and cigarette runs to the convenience store; and, most impressively, changes the bandages on Roger’s legs (he has cracking and bleeding on his legs due to severe edema). Without Mike’s assistance Roger would have a much lower quality of living and would likely be in some sort of assisted living facility.

But Roger is not always on the receiving end of acts of kindness. Having a car, he often plays chauffeur for some of the other residents for weekly trips to the grocery store. He regularly tells housemates to leave their dirty dishes in the sink, as washing dishes is his way of helping out. Roger is not alone in his acts of kindness. Howard, besides working at the shelter one night a week, is available for electrical repairs, and with assistance from Martha, always makes sure that the shelter laundry gets done in a timely fashion. Then there’s Mike D., Jennifer, and Fletcher who welcome and accept donations that are delivered to the house. All this is done in addition to the household chores everyone does to keep the house clean and orderly.

Fifteen years ago when we started using the Second Avenue house for permanent housing my hope was to provide supportive affordable housing for some of our shelter guests, particularly for those who would have the hardest time renting a place normally. At the time I thought that I would be the one supporting the residents. But overtime I have seen the residents be the ones supporting not only each other, but our work at the Catholic Worker Hospitality House as well.

Really, what I’m talking about here is mutual aid. In the United States we all too often subscribe to the belief of the rugged individualist, whose successes or failures are theirs alone. In my experience, this is total bunk. We need others and whether we accept it or not, we are all part of a web of support that makes our successes and quality of life possible. “From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs.” From personal experience when I play the “rugged individualist,” or should I say the “isolationist,” I’m neither happy nor healthy. When I help others, when I rely upon others, and when I work with others for a common good is exactly when I, and those I interact with, are happier, healthier, and better off.

As always we thank you for your ongoing support that makes our work possible. It is through such generosity (or shall we say, mutual aid) that we are able to continue feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, caring for the sick, and comforting the afflicted. We hope that you will continue helping us help others.

In Christ’s Peace,

Peter Stiehler
For all of us at
Catholic Worker Hospitality House

 

Mike DiCampli Health Update:
Many of y’all know Mike DiCampli from his work at the dining room on Friday mornings or from his greeting you when dropping off donations at our Second Ave house. Well, we almost lost Mike to diverticulitis in April. After feeling terrible for several days his wife Jennifer insisted he go to County Hospital. Doctors quickly diagnosed him with diverticulitis and began pumping him with antibiotics. An emergency surgery removed a grapefruit sized “puss ball” that, if it had burst, would have led to sepsis and killed him. To state the obvious, we are all glad that didn’t happen. Mike is still weak and recovering from his surgery, but getting better everyday. In a month or so he will have another surgery to remove the section of intestine damaged by diverticulitis and infection. Please keep Mike in your thoughts and prayers.

April Appeal

by Ella Chatfield-Stiehler

I rarely use reprints from other Catholic Worker Houses for our newsletter, but when I read the following article from the March 2022 issue of Manna in the Wilderness, the newsletter from the Las Vegas Catholic Worker, I knew I had to print it. In this piece Julia so beautifully captures why I, and so many others, are attracted to the Catholic Worker Movement, what keeps us there, and what the work is like. -Peter Stiehler, Catholic Worker Hospitality House. 

 

A Decision to Love

by Julia Occhiogrosso

In the summer of 1979, when I visited my sister at the Los Angeles Catholic Worker, I was introduced to a community of adults who were following in the footsteps of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, co-founders of the Catholic Worker movement. Founded in 1933, the movement was borne out of a renewed gospel vision for the call to love as the guiding principle for all interactions. 

The bold idealism stirred me, and experimenting with this utopian vision of love in action felt meaningful. Performing the Works of Mercy is one way the Catholic Worker put this love to the text. Feeding the hungry on our food lines or sheltering the homeless in our hospitality houses gives us an opportunity to practice. 

In Las Vegas, through our hospitality houses, we have had relationships with impoverished people who when given food, shelter and a safe place are able to cultivate their potential beyond raw survival. Given the opportunity, they discover gifts and talents and off themselves to others in generosity and joy. Even with its imperfections and challenges, hospitality is an ancient expression of gospel love that can yield healing and hope and capture a glimpse of the beloved community. We have a preview of the heavenly banquet, where people of diverse backgrounds find care and connection with each other. 

Then there are those whose internal struggles are so great that they aren’t able to accept simple hospitality – like Von – who rode the bus all night, declining any invitation for shelter, even sleeping on our couch. We have witnessed many behavioral obstacles limiting quality of life. 

How do you love people who struggle to love themselves, who time and time again sabotage the help they are given, struggle with telling the truth, manipulate situations to get what they want, or lash out and show no respect or reciprocity? These behaviors would compel even their strongest admirers to give up on them. How does a bold gesture of idyllic love fare in these circumstances? 

Many of us have known someone who has behaved like this – perhaps a friend, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, son or daughter. People we have been bonded to, whom we may remember as children of innocence, potential and beauty. Bonds have evolved into fragmented relationships that haunt us with grief, regret, confusion and feelings of powerlessness. We are left yearning for their healing, and praying for alleviations of their self-inflicted suffering. 

To love in these circumstances requires learning how to love with all our heart, with all our mind, and with all our soul. 

One needs a heart tender enough to sense the woundedness beneath the difficult and alienating behaviors. A heart that can access its capacity for empathy, that’s wise enough to get out of the way when targeted with projection and anger, and that learns how not to personalize or feel the conflict that belongs to the person acting out. 

Love needs a heart that knows its limits and knows how to set boundaries. to say no to harmful behaviors while saying yes to the goodness and sacredness buried beneath the pain is a way to cultivate a balanced response. Boundaries, balance and accountability are impactful because they model self-love. They can work to protect and replenish us from destructive and exhausting dynamics. To have the strength to love in these circumstances, we need an informed mind. We need the willingness to search out and understand the possible causes of the behaviors. There are ample studies that correlate early trauma to a variety of psychological, emotional and cognitive difficulties. These difficulties are often expressed through addictions, anti-social behaviors, aggression and isolation. 

While this knowledge may not make the dynamic easier, it at least can help us to judge less harshly and put things in perspective. Love asks us to reserve judgment and choose gestures of full acceptance. To suspend judgment is not meant to condone negative or destructive behaviors, but rather to foster an acceptance that recognizes that these behaviors are only part of the full person. Acceptance enables us to embrace the person in their totality. 

When we use our mind, we can learn helpful ways to respond to negative behaviors. When I worked in Colorado as a therapeutic foster parent, I learned responses to help teens who were struggling because of early trauma. One of the most tragic consequences of early trauma is its damage to a person’s ability to trust. These children needed calm, nonreactive environments. I learned how to not react to challenging behaviors. Over time, this helped these behaviors to decrease. 

A serious trust wound impedes our capacity for healthy relationships. A life void of authentic relationships leads to profound loneliness. Even the sincerest gestures of love are unable to penetrate the wall. Thoughtful reflection on this helps us to see that the only just response is mercy and forgiveness a thousandfold. 

And finally, it is within our souls that we will access the inexhaustible potential of love. Our soul’s strength enables us to transcend our human limitations and opens us to the mystery of grace. Within the soul realm dwells the energy of our true selves – born of and for divine love. Within this realm we can lay to rest our ego needs and fears. When we give ourselves to stillness and attention to our soul, we will find a safe space to breathe and let go of all that we do not understand and cannot control. Here we can be with suffering, grief, and loss and allow it to expand our heart, mind, and soul into an ever-deepening capacity for love.

As a young person I was attracted to the bold invitation to love perfectly; I knew the Beatles song very well: All You Need Is Love. Living in the Catholic Worker community, I’ve had a chance to prove it. 

Now, nearly forty years later, I resonate more with a quote from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Brother Karamazov often referenced by Dorothy Day: “Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.”

My youthful spin on Gospel love was quickly pierced when I attempted to put the dream into practice. Then I was (and still am) met with my limitations and woundedness. My fears and my needs often sabotage even the most sincere of efforts. 

Even with this, I am compelled to continue as a seeker of perfect love. Not because of a mandate but because even with its challenges and sufferings, its harsh and dreadful residuals, it holds the promise of becoming fully human and the gift of abundant life. Even with its tedious moment-to-moment demands, it is finally, for me, the only path to healing and transformation for myself and for our wounded world. 

Julia Occhiogrosso is the founder of the Las Vegas Catholic Worker.

 

ADU Update

In what is becoming an unfortunately common refrain: the ADU is not yet finished, but progress is coming along. I am doing what I can to push the project forward while also doing my best to accept delays. In this, the Serenity Prayer has been very helpful: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference. Thy will be done, not mine.” Why the delay? Partly it’s issues with the supply chain delays (windows and labor), but mostly it’s contractor issues. If I would have picked a different contractor we would be done by now. Live and learn, I should have known better. I wish I could give a definite date for occupancy, but it’s out of my control. That said, if it’s not done by une you might see me on the evening news doing something rash (a little humor to soften the frustration). I try to keep in mind that this project will eventually be finished and will provide much needed dignified housing to those we serve.

February Appeal

by Ella Chatfield-Stiehler

February 2022

Dear Friends,

“How can you cope with all the misery you see on a daily basis? It must be so depressing.” In the thirty plus years I have been a part of the Catholic Worker movement I have often heard this response from people when asked about my work. It is true that in our daily work we often see people at their worst and it can be hard to witness: folks in the throes of addiction, untreated mental illness, depression, self-loathing, poor hygiene, and just general bad behavior. There is no hiding the fact that we experience a lot of the harsh reality of life. But what people often miss, or don’t realize, is the joy that accompanies our work.

Peter Maurin, the co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, envisioned Catholic Worker Houses of Hospitality as “a place where it’s easier for people to be good.” I feel my most important duty at the dining room, shelter, and boarding homes is to create a welcoming, respectful, and safe environment for all who come there. That loving environment, I hope, will bring out the best in people. It also creates the opportunity for meaningful relationships to develop. And that is exactly what we experience on a daily basis. I see our guests trying to be their best (even if they can’t say a sentence without using multiple four-letter words) and we see friendships develop. Recently a new volunteer was amazed at the camaraderie she experienced at the dining room. The friendly conversation and laughter among our guests is not what this volunteer expected of a soup kitchen. Mike, who was working in the dining room that day, responded enthusiastically, “Exactly! That’s what’s so great about this place and what I appreciated when I was a guest here.”

In a world increasingly beset by alienation, isolation and loneliness, we are daily surrounded by people with whom we’ve developed close relationships. Initial strangers become acquaintances who become friends with whom we share the ups and downs of life. I look forward to seeing folks (both guests and volunteers) at the dining room, at stores, or on the street. It always makes my day and has given me the sense of community I’ve longed for since childhood.

And then there are the people who support our work and volunteer with us. I have met the nicest and most inspiring people in my life through my work. Some are truly extraordinary people, but most are just regular people trying to be their best. Whether it’s other Catholic Workers, folks in the peace movement, neighbors, or whoever, I am daily surrounded by generous and grateful people who are giving of their talents and treasures to make the world a better place. What a recipe for a joyful life.

Recently another new volunteer asked if we evangelize at the dining room, do we “preach the gospel” to our guests? My first response was, “No, people come here to get basic physical needs met. I don’t want them to feel like they have to listen to a sermon to get food, clean socks, or take a shower. Also, we have people from many and no faith traditions. I want to respect where and who they are.” But on further reflection I shared with him one of my favorite quotes: “Preach the gospel at all times. When absolutely necessary, use words.”

I like to think that by creating a place where it’s easier for people to be good we carry God’s message of love to all we encounter. In my opinion, it is through the witness of our own lives by how we treat others in our daily interactions that the greatest evangelization occurs. When St. John the Apostle was an old man other Christians would come to him seeking great words of wisdom from the last living Apostle. He would simply tell them, “Love one another.” “There must be more,” they would respond. His response would be, “If you love one another you have lived out the gospel of Christ.”

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not afraid or ashamed to preach the gospel. When people ask me why I do this work I’m happy to tell them I do it because I feel it’s the best way for me to live out my Catholic faith. When I’m occasionally asked to reflect on the scriptures at an area church or talk to a faith group, I’m there with the “God-talk.” But in my daily work I try to let my actions do the preaching. I believe it’s a much more respectful and effective way to express what having the love of God in my life means.

All of us at Catholic Worker Hospitality House – staff, volunteers, and guests – try our best to orient our lives in ways that incarnate the love and dignity of God in our daily lives, whatever our faith traditions. When you create “a place where it’s easier for people to be good” you will see the good side of people. The place brings it out in them and they bring it out in you. We are all so thankful to be part of a place where it’s easier for us to be good. Where we have the opportunity to serve our God through serving others.

As always, we thank you for your great generosity in making Catholic Worker Hospitality House a place where it’s easier for all of us to be good. We hope for your ongoing support that will continue making this special place possible.

In Christ’s Peace,

Peter Stiehler
For all of us at
Catholic Worker Hospitality House

ADU Update

It’s been a while since I’ve given an update on the progress of construction on the ADU (auxiliary dwelling unit, “in-law unit”) in the backyard of our Second Ave house. Bottom line, progress is being made, just not as fast as I would hope. The first six weeks, progress was great: the foundation was poured and framing was completed in amazing time. Workers were here everyday. Then there was the big storm in October, followed by a series of smaller storms. Since then progress has been sketchy at best. Part of the delay is due to weather, part is due to COVID supply chain and labor issues, and part of it is due to contractor issues. To say the least it’s been frustrating at times. But with the end of the holidays and a break in the rain, work is resuming. Our hope is to have folks in the house sometime in March. I know the two people who will be getting a nice new place to live are hoping for a March occupancy date. Please keep this project and our contractor in your prayers.

Christmas Appeal: Remembrance, Hope, and Faithfulness

by Ella Chatfield-Stiehler

December 2021

Dear Friends,

I am writing this letter, as I often do, during the morning serving at our dining room. Why here and now? When I am surrounded by the clamor of our guests being served, the playful banter of friends dining together, and tables and chairs being put away at the end of the serving day I am reminded of what drew me to this work and why I continue in it after so many years. In our newsletters this past year, we have been commemorating 25 years of love, service, and, hopefully, faithfulness to those in need in our community at Catholic Worker Hospitality House. We’ve reflected on what brought us here, why we do what we do, and how our work has grown over the years. As we close out our year of remembrance we hope that it has not been mere navel-gazing or self-congratulatory pats on the back, but rather an opportunity to remember God’s great love for us and what joy is to be found in the daily practice of the Works of Mercy, particularly to “the least among us.”

While I feel it’s important to remember why we serve those in need, for most of the 25 years of writing these letters I have struggled to avoid being repetitious and have attempted to keep these letters fresh and relevant. Our December letter has always posed the greatest difficulty. How many times can you relate the usual themes of Advent and Christmas to current events at Catholic Worker Hospitality House and in the world before they lose their power?

I have written on the season of Advent being a time of renewal and new beginnings; on the importance of people of faith being a beacon of hope when all seems lost; of how Catholic Worker Hospitality House tries to be a light in a time of darkness; how God’s coming into the world through the birth of Jesus at Christmas challenges us to see God in all humanity; and how Jesus’ humble birth calls us to be humble and live simply, even if it’s viewed as a threat to the powers that be.

Upon further reflection, these are great themes that bear reiteration. We are repetitious lest we forget, become complacent, and lose hope. With that in mind, we will honor God’s great love for us by continuing to seek renewal in ourselves and our work to better enflesh the Kingdom of God here and now in our community; we will strive to be instruments of God’s grace by serving those most in need in our society through the direct daily practice of the Works of Mercy; and we will seek to be a light of hope for those experiencing a time of darkness in body and/or mind. We will do our best to always be grateful for all we have been given: for God’s presence in our lives, for all the love in our lives, for all we have been given, and for the opportunity to serve. The list can, and should, go on and on for we can never be too repetitious when it comes to gratitude. But mostly we remain thankful for God’s great love for us in so many ways, particularly during this holiday season in which we celebrate the birth of Jesus. Despite all our failings we are worthy of this love and must pass it on.

And as always we give great thanks for all your past support of our work with those in need in our community and hope that you will continue helping us help others. We simply could not do this work without your kindness and generosity. All of us at Catholic Worker Hospitality House wish you and yours a happy holiday season.

Merry Christmas,

Peter Stiehler
For all of us at Catholic Worker Hospitality House

 

THANKSGIVING MEAL

In keeping with the letter’s theme of repetition, I reprint, with slight modifications, the reflection I wrote about last year’s Thanksgiving Dinner. It’s as apt this year as last year.

Every year, two weeks before Thanksgiving I get into a tizzy, fearful that we won’t have enough food for our guests. But every year there is plenty. Every year I fear that something will go dreadfully wrong and the meal will be a disaster and every year it’s a beautiful event. This year, due to the coronavirus, my fears were doubled. I hate not being able to serve a sit-down meal. How are we going to make the day festive when the best we can do is hot meals To-Go? Well, once again my fears proved unfounded, as our Thanksgiving Dinner was a lovely event. We had plenty of food and volunteers, and over 130 guests enjoying the day. Even without indoor dining the day was festive, joyful and full of thanks. I was a reminder of why our Thanksgiving Dinner is my favorite event of the year. I definitely need to be more mindful of the angel’s admonition of “Do not be afraid, everything will be alright.”

We thank all of you who provided food and supplies to make Thanksgiving a special day for all our guests. We couldn’t have done it without you. Now it’s time to prepare for Christmas…..

 

CHRISTMAS DINNER NEEDS

We will be hosting a Christmas Dinner for our guests, but with changes to account for the COVID pandemic. As with our Thanksgiving Dinner we hope to serve a sit-down meal, but may only be able to provide hot and hearty meals To-Go. Again, we hate making this change, as it seems hardly festive, but the safety of our guests and volunteers necessitate it (and Diocesan rules demand it). That said, can you help us host our annual Christmas dinner for our guests by cooking part of the meal?

We need:

  • Ham, cooked and carved
  • Potato dishes
  • Cookies, pie, or cake
  • individual milk, juice, or soda

Please bring food donations between 10:00 a.m. – 11:30 p.m. Thursday, December 23. We will be serving the meal between 11:30 – 1:30 p.m. that day. Food can be brought to our dining room at St. Bruno’s Church, located at 555 W. San Bruno Ave. in San Bruno. Please call us at (650) 827-0706 if you can bring anything or if you have any questions. Thank You!

 

GIFT IDEAS

If you’re interested in providing a gift for one of our guests, may we suggest gift cards as the ideal gift for another COVID impacted Christmas? They would provide Christmas cheer for our guests and enable them to purchase the items they need and want. It would also limit your exposure to crowds this holiday season. We suggest gift cards to grocery stores, Target, restaurants and coffee houses. If you still want to purchase a tangible gift, may we suggest one of the following: sweatshirt, thermal underwear, hat and gloves, socks, or underwear.

We thank you for your generosity in helping to make this holiday season special for our guests!