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

Peter Stiehler

Christmas Thanks

by Peter Stiehler

CHRISTMAS 2017

 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; God’s love endures forever. –Ps. 118:1

Dear Friends,

Giving and receiving thanks is an integral part of our daily life at Catholic Worker Hospitality House. Multiple times a day, volunteers and I are thanked by our guests for meals served, showers taken, space in the shelter, and for just being there. Multiple times a day, I give thanks for the assistance of volunteers for help taking out the trash, cleaning a bathroom. I hope I thank our donors enough for donations of money, food, and other supplies. It seems there is a never-ending profession of thanks going back and forth. It’s nice and comforting.

But what does giving thanks have to do with the seasons of Advent and Christmas? Advent is a time of renewal and preparation for the world-changing birth of the Messiah, whom we celebrate at Christmas. The transformative act of Christmas is that God comes to earth, not in power but in humility. The radical nature of Jesus’ birth is almost a cliché of humility: born to lowly parents in a stable, bedded in a feeding trough, a sheep who is watched over by shepherds. This is not the birth of an earthly King. Jesus as God and Messiah could have chosen a life of power and domination, but instead he manifested his Godliness by living, associating with, and serving the poor and lowly. I think the relationship between giving thanks and Christmas is that we are shown to be children of God not by dominating others, but by humbly giving thanks and serving those in need.

First and foremost, we give thanks to God for life and all we have been given and for being the source of all creation. My favorite prayer is a simple mantra, “we praise you Lord and we thank you.” Slowly and meditatively, I repeat this prayer thinking of all the gifts of God—the beauty of nature, meaningful work, family and friends (both living and dead), and good health to name just a few things for which to be thankful. Giving thanks to God also means giving thanks to those we interact with in our daily life for small or large acts of kindness. While words are nice, it is just as important to show our thanks through concrete actions of service and compassion—feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick and imprisoned.

The world-changing nature of this humility and thankfulness becomes apparent when contrasted with what seems the normative behavior of the powerful. Anyone with power is not to show any sign of weakness; rather, they are encouraged to demean the other as part of their self-aggrandizement. Sadly, there is almost a daily revelation in the headlines of how some politician or titan of business, intoxicated by their own sense of power, insults, ridicules, threatens, or abuses someone deemed weaker, insignificant, or undeserving of respect. Consider the anti-power nature of giving thanks: when we give thanks we acknowledge our debt to another; we acknowledge that we are not all-powerful, but, rather, are in need of assistance. Giving thanks not only shows our own weakness, but it validates the person who gives us aid.

This Christmas we praise God for the humble birth of the Messiah so long ago and for his continued presence in our lives and in the world, and we give thanks by continuing to serve those in need in our community and throughout the world. Through these humble acts of thanks and praise we hope to be agents of change in the world.

As always we give thanks to you, our faithful supporters, whose kindness enables us to continue being a source of solace to all those we serve on a daily basis at Catholic Worker Hospitality House.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year,

Peter Stiehler

For all of us at Catholic Worker Hospitality House

Shelter Changes

by Peter Stiehler

September 2017

Dear Friends,

I’m a strong believer in stability and routine. I personally thrive on it and, believe it’s good for the work we do with those in need in our community. In the nearly twenty years that Catholic Worker Hospitality House has been operating our little homeless shelter on the grounds of St. Bruno’s Catholic Church we’ve been blessed with great stability in the overnight staffing at the shelter. It has been over a decade since we’ve had any turnover in our shelter staffing. And I believe the experience our guests have at our shelter is better for that stability. But over the first half of this year we’ve had several changes in our shelter staff that I’d like to share with you.

Many of you know Eddison from the shelter and dining room. For twenty years, Eddison has been a part of our dining room and shelter community and for the past eleven years has worked as one of our overnight shelter staff (with Pat being the other staff person). He’s a bald, burly man with a winning smile and infectious laugh. I have always loved how he joyfully welcomes guests, volunteers, and donors. However, last November Eddison had a major health episode that landed him in the hospital for six weeks. Our hope (and his) was that after a period of recuperation Eddison would be back working at the shelter. But sadly that has not been the case. It quickly became apparent that his health issues are severe enough to prevent him from returning to work.

While we were shocked and saddened by Eddison’s health crisis, we also needed to scramble to find at least a temporary replacement for him. Sitting in the dining room one morning around this time I pondered, “Whom can I get to take Eddison’s place…and quick?” I was stumped. Then I saw Dean sitting at another table talking with other guests and thought, “perfect.” Dean is a long-time dining room guest, a former resident at one of our housing units, and a super nice guy. When I told him of the situation and our need for help he quickly and happily offered to cover for Eddison. When I later told him Eddison wouldn’t be returning to work, he said he could work until summer, but didn’t want to stay on permanently. Dean spoiled us during his tenure. He was great with the guests, an organizing and cleaning machine, and would help at the dining room when we were short-handed. In July we bid him a fond farewell as he departed for some much deserved rest and relaxation. We are so thankful for the time Dean gave to the shelter (and dining room).

We now have Gary working at the shelter. Another really nice guy and long-time part of the dining room and shelter community, he has settled into his job nicely and is happy to have a stable job where he is helping others. Having stayed at the shelter before he knows the routine, what it’s like staying in a shelter, and the importance of treating all the guests with dignity and respect. We too are happy to have Gary as part of the shelter team.

The last change is that I’m now working one shift a week at the shelter, something I haven’t done in nearly twenty years. It’s good for me, as the supervisor of the shelter, to actually spend time working there. I now have a deeper understanding of shelter life and appreciation of the work done by Pat, Eddison, Dean, and now Gary. Just like every other person at the shelter, I would prefer not to be there, but rather in my own bed in my own home. Still, our shelter meets a desperate need for those we serve and we do our best to provide a dependable, safe, and welcoming place for those without a place to lay their heads at night.

As always, we give thanks for all your past support of our work, your generosity has enabled Catholic Worker Hospitality House to be a stable and welcoming place for those in need in our community for over twenty years. We hope you will continue helping us help others.

Peter Stiehler

For all of us at Catholic Worker Hospitality House

ONGOING HOUSE NEEDS

  • Old-fashioned oatmeal
  • Canned Fruit
  • Milk and margarine
  • Sandwich bags and brown lunch bags
  • Flatware (forks, spoons, knives)
  • Coffee Mugs
  • Monday volunteers at the dining room
  • Money, for our ongoing expenses

ANOTHER STEP INTO THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY

Catholic Worker Hospitality House is now able to accept donations by credit and debit cards. Currently we can process a donation by getting the card information by phone and we are in the process of having a portal installed on our website (catholicworkerhospitalityhouse.org) for credit or debit card donations, it will hopefully be up in early September. We also have a PayPal account on our website if that works better for you. Please call if you have any questions about donating electronically.

TINY HOUSE UPDATE

While there are still some finishing touches to do on our Tiny House, we are finally at the point where it is habitable and ready to be taken to different locations to show its potential for affordable housing in our communities.

We are thankful for the many volunteers who made the project possible: Wayne Burdick for helping with designing the interior layout; Cristian Cabrera, owner of JStyle at Home, for the beautiful custom-made cabinetry; Bethany Presbyterian Church for hosting the Tiny House during construction; all our donors whose generosity made it possible for us to build; and most of all to Aaron Castle. The house simply could not have been built without Aaron– he envisioned and constructed the interior build-out of the house (with some help from Peter). His skill and artistry is immediately apparent upon entering the Tiny House.

We are still looking for permanent home for our Tiny House. We are looking for a homeowner, congregation, organization, or business to host the Tiny House. If you’re interested give Kate Chatfield a call at 650-827-0706. Thank you.

Whoever You Are, You’re Welcome Here

by Peter Stiehler

June 2017

Dear Friends,

At Catholic Worker Hospitality House we are blessed with a great diversity of guests and volunteers: African-Americans, Anglos, Latinos from many nations, Filipinos, Chinese, and Pacific Islanders to name a few. We revel in the diversity of our guests and use humor to show the absurdity of intolerance. Most mornings when I open the dining room I “ostracize” one group and welcome and other: “no white guys today, only Filipinos” or “No Mexicans. Oh, you’re Salvadorean? Well, come on in.” I can joke because everyone is in on the joke—it is a joke about the world and about all of us. For twenty-one years we’ve welcomed all who come to us in need.

I’ve always been inspired by the signboard at Bethany Presbyterian Church in San Bruno, which reads: “Whoever you are, you’re welcome here.” It’s a lovely sentiment that the congregation faithfully embodies. We too strive to embody this ethic at Catholic Worker Hospitality House. While we do our best to treat everyone fairly and equally, we put a little more effort in welcoming the immigrants, especially those with a language barrier. My Spanish is limited and my knowledge of Chinese consists of three words, still it’s easy to get across that a person is welcome and accepted. I think this is why our guests not only put up with my silliness, but join in the fun themselves. When I open the door, Juan will often say “no Mexicans, no Mexicans” and then is the first one in the door. But my favorite was when Kathy, a chronically homeless woman, said “no homeless today!” What all this joking highlights is that race or national origins really don’t matter. We are all one in the eyes of God.

“Whoever you are, you are welcome here.” This extreme inclusiveness is inspired by the life of Jesus. In reading the gospels it seems Jesus is always breaking some religious or societal norm by reaching out to and welcoming the alien, the outcast, and the undesirable.

Whether it’s a hated and feared Roman soldier, tax collector, prostitute, or leper Jesus acknowledges them before others. He shows love and acceptance, and in the process brings about healing and reconciliation. People who were outcasts are welcome back into the community.

While we haven’t healed any lepers or walked on water, we do try to be like Jesus in our daily work by practicing radical hospitality–welcoming all as unique and precious children of God. And in the process we have created a polyglot community where everyone is accepted regardless of their skin color, national origin, native tongue, dress, or illness.

As always, we give thanks for your past support of our work with those in need and plead for your continued support. It is through such generosity that we are able to continue being a presence of radical hospitality.

Peter Stiehler

For all of us at Catholic Worker Hospitality House

HOUSE NEEDS

  • Canned soup
  • Sugar (White and brown)
  • Soap and shampoo
  • Napkins
  • Forks and spoons
  • Money, for our ongoing expenses

WE NEED BLANKETS

Summer is here, which means it’s time to break out the blankets and warm clothing. Ah, life in San Bruno.

The wet winter and spring has depleted our supply of blankets and sleeping bags. Could you pass on your old and unused blankets to replenish our supply? Your generosity will enable us to have plenty of blankets for our shelter guests and to provide warmth to our dining room guests who are either sleeping in their car or outside.

 

WE GIVE THANKS

At Catholic Worker Hospitality House we realize that our work is made possible by your generosity. For the past twenty-one years we have been able to be a stable source of succor for those in need in our community because of your kindness. For the past twenty-one years we have been able to dream of and enflesh new and innovative projects because of your kindness. We are thankful and humbled by this faithful support. From all of us at Catholic Worker Hospitality House we say: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

 

 

 

 

Calling it Home

by Peter Stiehler

April 2017

Dear Friends,

Not long ago I was sitting on the back porch at the Second Ave. house chatting with the guys when one of the Mikes joked, “Peter, you’ve finally got the commune you always wanted.” He was referring to the extra people we had working with us and living at the house—Christine working at the dining room, Candace and Aaron living at the house and assisting with the tiny house project, and various residents regularly volunteering at the dining room. While Mike was playfully referring to my days of living in intentional communities, he was accurately portraying the nature of the house: there are unrelated people living together, sharing resources, and engaged in a common work. Still, our house on Second Ave. is NOT a commune in the 1960’s sense—there is no “free love” and definitely no nudity. And while the residents may at times be “in tension” living together, it’s not an “intentional community.” It is simply folks escaping homelessness by living together.

But Mike’s playfulness raises a large question: what should we call our house in San Bruno and the house in South San Francisco? This is something Kate and I have gone back and forth on for years, she calling them one thing and me another. It seems all the terms we use have a “Yes, but…” element to them, they kind of fit and kind of don’t.

Kate prefers the term “permanent supportive affordable housing,” which is accurate. Our houses provide permanent affordable housing for formerly homeless individuals and there is a supportive element to the houses that is not found in a typical rental (we cover all utilities, mediate household conflicts, assist with social services as needed, etc). But I’m uncomfortable calling it “supportive housing” as it denotes, to me, an inability of the residents to care for themselves, a dependency that I don’t feel exists as they cook, clean, and otherwise manage their own affairs.

I often use the term “boarding house.” I find it less of a mouthful than “permanent supportive affordable housing” and it’s a term with which most folks are familiar. In some ways the term is apt. But “boarding house” doesn’t quite fit either with its connotations of a run-down building with a miserly landlord and folks huddled in their individual rooms without a connection to the other residents. That definitely doesn’t describe our houses, where folks share meals together, socialize on the back porch, and look out for each other. There is a sense of community and belonging that brings joy to the lives of the residents. So, no, “boarding house” is not the proper term for our houses.

What then to call these houses? While our houses may have aspects of a commune, or supportive housing or a boarding house, none of the names seem to fit. I don’t want to use a term that’s either too clinical (permanent affordable supportive housing) or not representative of the reality of the house (boarding house, commune). Maybe we should just call it “home”– a non-traditional home, a strange home, but still a home for the folks who live there. I would like to think that the residents have found a home at our various houses. It is not fancy, and perhaps all would prefer their own house, but I also know how grateful each person is to be off the street and out of shelters. They are thankful for a permanent place to live. They appreciate living in a nice house with full amenities (furnished house, washer and dryer, landscaped backyard with chickens). And even the grumpiest of residents enjoy the companionship and friendships that exists at the house. When it comes down to it, we all want secure decent housing and people with whom to share our lives. We all want a home.

Your ongoing support has enabled us to create these homes for some of our former shelter guests and to dream of creating more (our tiny house project). We thank you for past support and hope you will continue helping us help others.

Peter Stiehler

For all of us at Catholic Worker Hospitality House

 

HOUSE NEEDS

  • Dish soap, cleanser, bleach
  • Laundry soap
  • Canned soup
  • Jelly
  • Milk and bread
  • Money, for our ongoing expenses

TINY HOUSE UPDATE

Is it a truism that building projects always take much longer than expected? Well, it sure is for our Tiny House Project. The delays are maddening, but we’re plodding along getting the house ready for someone to occupy. Since our February update we’ve installed cedar paneling and beautiful hand-milled trim (by Aaron). By the middle of April we should hopefully have the cabinets, plumbing, composting toilet and solar electrical system installed and functioning. We’re still working on getting the proper shower pan for the shower. We’re making progress, just not as quickly as we had.

We’ve working on finding a home for our tiny house. We’ve had preliminary talks regarding a couple of potential sites, but they’re still in the early discussion phase. If you, or your business, or your congregation are interested in hosting our tiny house once it’s completed and ready for occupancy, please give Peter a call at 650-291-2400.

 

 

Holiday Appeal, 2015

by Peter Stiehler
Holiday Appeal, 2015

Dear Friends,

The holidays are a festive time for our guests at Catholic Worker Hospitality House. As in years past, we kicked off the season with our annual Thanksgiving Dinner. It felt like a vision of the heavenly feast with hundreds of folks joining in to create and participate in a bountiful feast—some cooking, others setting-up and decorating the hall, others helping to serve, everybody enjoying the delicious food, and still others coming in late to assist with clean up. To see so many people together sharing how and what they are able, is really a beautiful sight.