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

Ella Chatfield-Stiehler

Fall Vacation Notice

by Ella Chatfield-Stiehler

At Catholic Worker Hospitality House we close our dining room and shelter for a week vacation several times a year.  These times off provide a necessary respite which enables us to remain kind and compassionate (most of the time) to those we serve.  It also gives us time to do some deep cleaning and light maintenance on the dining room and shelter.

We will be closing for our Fall Vacation after the dining room service on Friday, October 23.  The dining room and shelter will be closed for ten days until we reopen on Monday, November 2.

 

Peter Stiehler, for all of us at Catholic Worker Hospitality House

October Update

by Ella Chatfield-Stiehler

PERALTA BACKYARD

We are always trying to make our houses a little nicer for the folks who live in them. To that end I recently started working on transforming the backyard of our transitional house in Oakland from a drab uninviting space into a more welcoming and usable space. In mid September we removed an old rotting deck and installed a new 11’ x 13’ brick patio. Then we added mulch to trim the area and last week Kate ordered some patio furniture from an area carpenter. The space is already much more inviting! This winter, after we get a little rain, we will finish landscaping the backyard.

 

RESUMPTION OF SHOWER SERVICES

In mid-March as part of our response to the COVID-19 pandemic we stopped offering shower services to our dining room guests.  At the time so little was known regarding the spread of the virus that we felt it was wiser to halt shower services.  Our thinking was that offering showers posed too much of a risk to staff and shelter guests and it was more important to keep the dining room and shelter operating.

In mid-September during a Zoom Catholic Worker retreat I learned that House of Grace Catholic Worker in Philadelphia had continued shower services at their Free Health Clinic.  Johanna and Mary Beth who operate the house are both nurses and had consulted a doctor who said that if they cleaned the shower between uses it would be safe to continue offering shower services.  I was so happy to hear of this as I know how important showers are to our homeless guests.  So after six months of not offering shower services to our dining room guests we resumed offering this service in late September.  Needless to say, our guests are quite pleased with this new development!

 

THANKSGIVING DINNER PLANS

At Catholic Worker Hospitality House we have been lucky to continue our dining room and homeless shelter with only minor changes despite the dangers posed by the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic.  However, we are facing a tougher challenge regarding our annual Thanksgiving Dinner.  Thanksgiving Dinner is our biggest event of the year, both for guests and volunteers.  For the past twenty-three years we’ve hosted a traditional feast with over two hundred folks in attendance at St. Bruno’s Parish Hall.  Considering the situation with COVID-19 I don’t see us doing our usual indoor sit-down dinner this year.

Maybe by late November the pandemic will have abated enough to allow gatherings, but it’s just as likely that there will be a resurgence of the virus. Most likely we’ll have to offer our guests a Thanksgiving meal packaged To-Go.  It’s hardly the festive communal meal we’re accustomed to hosting, but considering the circumstances, it’s probably the best we can do this year.

Bottom line is we will do something for Thanksgiving, we’re just not sure how or what.  But doing nothing doesn’t seem an option.  I’m going to wait as long as I can to see what the health restrictions are and then come up with a definite plan.  I’ll keep you all updated on our Thanksgiving Dinner plans.

Many of you have regularly helped out in the past either by preparing food or volunteering.  It would be helpful to know who will be able to assist again this year.  Could you send an email to cwhhsb@gmail.com to let us know whether or not you’ll be able to assist?  It’ll be very helpful in our planning process.  Thanks!

 

In Christ’s Peace,

Peter Stiehler
Director
Catholic Worker Hospitality House

September Appeal

by Ella Chatfield-Stiehler

September 2020

Dear Friends,

August 6 marked twenty years that Pat Ford has worked as an overnight staff person at our homeless shelter.  When I asked him if he would be interested in the job he was a relatively new guest at the shelter. I didn’t know him well, but he seemed like a stable and responsible guy.  I had some concerns about whether he would work out, but we were desperate to find an evening staff person as the previous staffer had left for another job.
Why was I concerned?  As a Navy veteran and life-long conservative Republican, Pat seems like an odd match for a Catholic Worker homeless shelter.  While it quickly became clear that Pat was competent in his position, for the first few years Pat worked with us we regularly argued about politics. It felt like “The Odd Couple” or “Point Counterpoint.” “Crazy liberal!” and “Fascist!” were thrown around a lot.  It would have been so easy for both of us to look at our differences and not work together.  Instead we chose to focus on our common belief in service and caring for those in need in our community.  And the rest is history.  I think it’s fair to say that neither of us thought we would still be working together twenty years later.
Behind Pat’s gruff exterior is someone who really cares for our guests. As a former shelter guest and someone who went through hard times himself, he really feels their plight and goes the extra mile to assist them however he can.  He is much better than I am at motivating and assisting our guests in getting the services they need.
For new volunteers, particularly high school students, the shelter can be an intimidating place.  Pat invariably puts them at ease…and to work.  Whether it’s preparing food, cleaning up around the shelter, or sitting and talking with guests, he knows how to make sure they have a good experience volunteering at the shelter.  He’s also great at chatting them up, regaling them with stories of the shelter or his travels around the world.
Pat’s commitment to service and his kindness to those we serve makes him an invaluable asset to our work.  While I have a vision of how I want our shelter to operate, Pat has extensive practical knowledge forged from years of experience at the shelter. I regularly rely on him for advice on who to bring into the shelter and how long to keep them. If I have a “great” new idea for the shelter I have learned to run it past him first to see if it’s a feasible plan.  He also has brought great stability and an institutional memory to the shelter with his ability to remember past guests and whether they were good or problematic.
Pat has also been a great ambassador between Catholic Worker Hospitality House and St. Bruno’s Parish, where we operate the shelter and dining room. He chats up parishioners, particularly those leery at having a homeless shelter on church grounds.  If there is a question about our work or a concern about one of our guests, Pat is there to educate and take care of any problems.  Parish staff relies on Pat to make sure the church doors are locked, gates closed, and parish grounds are secure.  Considering that the existence of our dining room and homeless shelter at St. Bruno’s Church is dependent on the parish’s continued acceptance of our work, it’s hard to underestimate the importance of the goodwill Pat has engendered around the parish for the longterm viability of the shelter and dining room.
Thank you Pat for your many years of devoted service. The place wouldn’t be the same without you.  I hope we have many more years working together in service to those in need in our community.

In Christ’s Peace,

Peter Stiehler
For all of us at
Catholic Worker Hospitality House

 

BE CAREFUL OF WHAT YOU ASK FOR

A couple of weeks ago I was sitting at my desk in the basement of our Second Avenue boarding house resting after having wrapped up several maintenance projects.  I was thinking, “Well, what am I going to do now?”  Just then I heard a steady stream of water dripping on boxes in the basement. “Oh no, this can’t be good.” I ran upstairs to discover the water was coming fromthe upstairs bathroom where one of the residents was taking a shower. After investigating the situation it became clear that we needed to do a major rebuild of the shower.  While such a project is never a good thing, there were two bright spots: first, we have a second shower for the guests to use while we make needed repairs and second, Mike DiCampli, one of the house residents, told me he knows how to do tiling.  So it was clear we could do the repairs quickly and cheaply.  Together Mike and I did the needed demolition and repairs and we once again have a functioning, non-leaking, shower.  As usual, Mike provided the brains and I provided the muscle and the money.  Thank you Mike! In the future I’ll be more careful about looking for projects to keep myself occupied.

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