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

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April Appeal

by Ella Chatfield-Stiehler

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.
Ecclesiastes 3:1

Dear Friends,

Having operated our little Catholic Worker House for the past 28 years I’ve come to see the rhythm and flow to our work throughout the year. While we daily perform the Works of Mercy at our dining room, homeless shelter, and affordable housing units, there are other activities related to and supportive of our work that frame our year.

From early November through the end of December is the “holiday season.” This is usually an especially busy period as during this time, in addition to our usual work, we host special meals and events for our guests, and are the recipients of numerous food drives which replenish our depleted food stores. Our bank account also gets replenished at this time with donations from you, our generous donors. What we receive in this season sets the parameters of what we can do throughout the year, particularly in regards to ongoing maintenance projects, which I will talk more about below.

Then there is what I call “IRS Season” from January into March when we are sending out tax receipts and completing various federal and state tax forms to verify that we are abiding by our stated tax-exempt purpose (the public good for which the tax-exempt status is conferred). This is a time consuming process and can feel onerous, but I’ve come to understand and appreciate its importance: non-profits should be kept accountable. Basically, the IRS wants to see that the money raised is going for the exempt purpose and not just to pay a professional fundraiser and the salary of a director. This is NEVER an issue for us. We don’t use professional fundraisers and all the workers, especially the director, are daily engaged in direct service to those in need, and we have no administrative staff.

Then from March through May is what I jokingly call “High School Service Hours Season,” when students are frantically trying to complete their service hours requirements before graduation or confirmation. The hope is that they get to experience homeless and low-income folks as actual human beings and not as bogey-men or stereotypes. It’s also good for some of them to learn how to use a can opener, make pancakes, and the joy of hand washing dishes.


Finally, there is “Maintenance Season” from April through October. To be honest, maintenance season is really year-round as we are always responding to various plumbing, electrical, or mechanical issues. But it’s during “the season” that we initiate major maintenance projects on the various buildings out of which we operate our service projects: painting, building repair, fence repair, and whatever else needs doing. As I mentioned earlier, the state of our finances in January will determine which big projects we will be able to take on in the coming year and which will have to wait. I was recently planning this years’ maintenance season projects when…..

…. The season came early and with a vengeance. Besides the usual minor repairs, we’ve been hit with multiple expensive repairs in quick succession. First there was major car repair on the truck I use daily to move all our supplies, etc.; then I had to rebuild the fence at one of our boarding homes; and then the dryer we use daily for the dining room and shelter laundry broke and needed to be replaced. All of these would have been manage- able, but to top it all off one evening in early March I received a call that there was a significant roof leak at our Second Ave house. The next day when I went on the roof to assess the situation it became clear the roof needed replacing. The roof on that house is at least 30 years old and quite complicated as the house has been added onto numerous times during its existence. After receiving estimates, it looks like it’ll cost close to $32,000 to replace the entire roof, which we can’t afford. The question now is how much roof repair can we afford to do? To be honest, it’s a little stressful.

This brings up an issue of great importance in our work at Catholic Worker Hospitality House, that of stewardship. I’ve come to
think that a better name for “maintenance season” would be “stewardship season.” I believe strongly in the importance of stewardship. I take seriously my role as steward of the resources we have been entrusted with to serve those in need. We have a responsibility to maintain them for use now and into the future. We also want to keep our places looking nice for our guests, we don’t want to be slumlords.

I can easily be accused of reverting to my bourgeois background by putting so much emphasis, and resources, into keeping our houses well maintained, but, for me, part of providing dignified housing for those we serve is to keep our houses functioning well and looking nice. Who wants to live in a run-down house? I’ve also come to see stewardship as an aspect of the Works of Mercy. It’s hard to feed the hungry if the stove isn’t working. How well are we housing the homeless if the roof is leaking, the shower is broken, and the toilet is clogged? You get my point.

For 28 years we have daily practiced the Works of Mercy in service to those in need in our community, and tried to be consistent good stewards of the resources we have been entrusted with. We have been able to do this because of your great generosity, for this we are deeply grateful. We again make a plea for your continued support so we can continue our work…..and hopefully make the needed repairs on our roof and stay on top of other repair projects that are bound to turn up. Can you continue assisting us?

Christ’s peace,
Peter Stiehler
For all of us at
Catholic Worker Hospitality House

 

 

Just as the disciples didn’t recognize Jesus as they conversed on the road to Emmaus until they offered him hospitality and shared a meal together, so too do we not recognize Jesus in the faces of those we serve until we break bread together at our dining room and shelter. Emboldened by the risen Jesus we continue offering hospitality to those in need and doing our best to live out the Easter promise. In that spirit, we wish you all a HAPPY EASTER!

February Appeal

by Ella Chatfield-Stiehler

Dear Friends,

This time last year I was sure we were going to be closing our homeless shelter in the near future due to it no longer being needed.  Government efforts to house long-term homeless folks in our county combined with the imminent opening of a large new Navigation Center in Redwood City for the homeless with shelter and wrap-around services led me to believe that, by
the end of the year, our little homeless shelter would no longer be needed.

For most of the 26 years we have been operating our homeless shelter at Catholic Worker Hospitality House we were regularly inundated with many more people requesting shelter space than we had availability.  It has always been hard turning away more people than we accept.  Covid changed all that as there was a concerted effort by the government to prevent the spread of Covid by housing homeless people in local motels.  Almost overnight we saw a large drop in the number of people eating at our dining room and seeking shelter.

Further lessening the demand on our shelter has been San Mateo County’s commitment over the past few years to actively creating more permanent affordable housing for long-term homeless individuals. It has been so nice to see people getting housed who I thought would never get housing. We have been doing our part by providing a wide range of household goods to furnish their apartments once they move in.  It’s always the high point of my day, week, month when I help to furnish the apartment of a former guest and see how happy and thankful they are.  After years of being homeless, with the resulting precarity and humiliations, they now have the security and dignity of their own home.  Beautiful!

Now a year later, I have been proven wrong regarding the imminent demise of our little homeless shelter. The numbers of people seeking shelter has admittedly reduced, but we are still regularly at capacity, especially during the wet and cold season, and routinely, regrettably, turn people away due to lack of space. Clearly, our shelter is still a valued asset for those in
need in our community.

One thing we have noticed lately is the people now seeking to stay at our shelter are a more challenging population. In the past we had the luxury of cherry picking who we thought would be the easiest, least difficult guests. But that is no longer the case.  This makes sense as most of the “easy” homeless population are getting housed, leaving these “more challenging” people for us to serve.  Those who can complete a cumbersome and overly bureaucratic application process get housing, those who can’t—or won’t—don’t get housing.  What makes someone “more challenging” to have as a guest in our shelter?  It can be mental illness or sub- stance abuse or being just plain cantankerous or a combination of the three.  These conditions vary on a spectrum from one individual to another and aren’t always initially recognizable. These folks, while definitely in need of our services, can be very challenging to serve as their behavior is often disruptive to the other guests.  It is so frustrating seeing folks miss out on the possibility of obtaining permanent affordable housing with a resultant better quality of life because they are unable or unwilling to work the process. I want to scream out: “If you would just follow their process you WILL get permanent housing.”  I think of Greg who fits this category perfectly.  He either couldn’t or wouldn’t follow the process and ended up dying in his campsite.  Might he have lived longer if housed?

Another reason we have seen for the continued operation of our shelter is that the county is now rigorously enforcing a policy of no services to people who have not been verifiable residents of the county for less than 90 days.  At Catholic Worker Hospitality House we do not have that policy.  There is no lengthy verification process to determine eligibility for our shelter or dining room. We see people in need and react immediately, as best we can. Our extreme anti-bureaucratic stance, and refusal to accept government funding, means we serve people immediately.

While the rationale behind the county’s policy is understandable, it does leave some people in a very difficult situation.  We have had several shelter guests lately who could only stay at our place because they were new to the area. In December we had a man from Salinas stay with us for a couple of nights who had been dropped off in the area and spoke no English. What was he to do? What were we to do? We made space for him.  We are often the way station where people can stay until they have the requisite residency status to qualify for county run or funded facilities. We will be here to continue meeting that need.  So, the good news is, we will not be closing our shelter. But I guess the bad news is we will not be closing our shelter.  Nothing would make us happier than to close our shelter because there was no longer a need for it. Sadly, I don’t see that happening in the near future.

While Catholic Workers have historically made a career out of justifiably criticizing the government for a variety of reasons, not the least its not prioritizing the creation of affordable housing, we must now applaud all levels of government for devoting resources to providing permanent affordable housing to those most in need in our community. It is definitely making a difference in the lives of those we serve.  That said, I did read in the paper recently that upcoming state budget cuts will disproportionately affect the poorest residents by reducing funds for affordable housing, no surprise there.

There are still people, and probably always will be, who are in crisis or relocating and need the services our shelter provides.  We are committed to keeping our shelter open for these folks.  And whether housed or homeless there is a sizable number of people who need the resources our dining room provides.  We are committed to keeping our dining room open for these folks.  We are able to follow through on these commitments through your generous support.  We are thankful for your past support and plead for your continued generosity to enable us to continue serving those in need in our community.

 

In Christ’s Peace,

Peter Stiehler
For all of us at
Catholic Worker
Hospitality House

Christmas 2023

by Ella Chatfield-Stiehler

“All you need is love. Love is all you really need.” —The Beatles

“What the world needs now is love, sweet love, not just for some but for everyone.”
—Burt Bacharach

Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.
— Fyodor Dostoyevsky from The Brothers Karamazov

A new command I give to you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. – John 13:34-35

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. – Rom 12:9-10

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. –1st John 4:7-8

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails…And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest is love. –1 Corinthians 13:4-8, 13

A pharisee asked Jesus. What is the greatest commandment? Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” –Matthew 22:34-40

 

Dear Friends,

You are probably wondering, “What is with all the “love” quotes? Isn’t this a Christmas newsletter? Shouldn’t I be talking about baby Jesus in a manger, shepherds, and the Magi?” Good question. I’ve been writing that type of Christmas letter for over twenty-five years, so I thought this year I would do something different and maybe get to the root of what I think the season is all about, hence all the “love” quotes.

Advent and Christmas seasons are the time when we prepare for and celebrate the coming of love into the world in a special way with the birth of Jesus. As a follower of Jesus I feel called to be a person of love. The challenge is how to enflesh this love in my daily life. Too often I think of love as something sweet and easy, but as the above quote from The Brother’s Karamazov states: “Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.” If I want to commit my life to the Way of God, then I must embrace that harsh and dreadful love.

Indeed, the love that Mary and Joseph showed in the nativity story was a love of action. Nothing that Joseph and Mary did was easy. Joseph chose to care for and protect Mary and raise Jesus as his son, even though he was ridiculed and mocked by those around him. Mary was not given a dignified place to give birth and had to give birth in a manger. The story of Jesus’ entrance into
this world is harsh and dreadful, because it is not easy to birth love into a world that so continuously rejects it.

I like to think that love is what our work is all about at Catholic Worker Hospitality House. Whether it’s providing hot and hearty meals at our dining room or a safe and welcoming bed at our homeless shelter, or permanent affordable housing at one of our boarding houses, these actions are our attempts at loving God through loving our neighbors. I’ll be the first to admit that we aren’t always loving, sometimes far from it, but we keep on trying.

But we don’t do this alone. We know that your generous support of our work is one way that you too love God and neighbor. We are so thankful for your past support and hope that you will continue helping us provide loving service to those in need.

Wishing you and yours a happy holiday season,

Peter Stiehler
For all of us at
Catholic Worker Hospitality House

 

CHRISTMAS DINNER NEEDS
Can you help us host our annual Christmas dinner for our guests by cooking part of the meal? We need:

  • Ham, cooked and carved, enough for 10 people
  • Potato dishes
  • Milk or juice
  • Cookies, pie, or cake

Please bring food donations between 10:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m. Friday, December 22. We will be serving the meal between 11:00 – 12:00 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 this 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, 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.

Thanksgiving Dinner 2023

by Ella Chatfield-Stiehler

Dear Friends,

Thanksgiving will soon be upon us and Catholic Worker Hospitality House will once again host a Thanksgiving Dinner for all our guests. We once again turn to you to make this special meal possible. In the past you have brought food to share with all of our guests for a traditional Thanksgiving feast. Can you help us again this year? Can you bring one or more of the following:

  • Turkey, cooked and carved to serve ten
  • Pie, cake or cookies
  • Mashed potatoes or stuffing for ten
  • Apple cider or milk
  • Vegetable dish for ten
  • Paper plates, napkins, to go containers

If you can provide any of these items please call us at (650) 827-0706.

Food is to be brought to our dining room at St. Bruno’s Church, located at 555 W. San Bruno Ave., between 10 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day (Thursday, Nov. 23). The meal will be served between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.. PLEASE call to tell us what you can bring so we can plan accordingly.

Please consider yourself invited to our Thanksgiving Dinner. We know many of you are far from family or perhaps without family. Thanksgiving is the time we remember that we are all part of God’s family: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you all are one in Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28)

Thank you so much for your continued generosity.

Peace,

Peter Stiehler
For all of us at Catholic Worker Hospitality House

June Appeal

Dear Friends,

When I sit down to write our newsletters I normally try to share the exciting developments and accomplishments of our work, such as last year when I was regularly writing about the building of new affordable housing at the Second Ave House, or the comings and goings of various residents of our houses. Other times I write about moving events such as last month’s letter telling of long-time guests passing away. These are the easy letters to write, they almost write themselves. Not this month. For the past several weeks, I’ve been racking my brain to find something exciting or interesting to talk about in this letter, but I finally had to admit that there’s nothing exciting going on right now.

Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. I often say that when we are doing our job well, nobody notices. The place is clean, we open on time, we have plenty of food, the plumbing works, and the bills are paid. A well-run program can be “boring” at times. And that IS a good thing. I think of being a parent; one of the most important things parents can do for their children is provide a stable loving environment. Heck, we all want a stable loving environment. We want to know we will be safe, accepted, and that our needs will be provided for.

I have to admit that I’m proud of the stable loving environment we have created at Catholic Worker Hospitality House. And I emphasize the “WE.” Too often I get too much of the credit for the work we do. But I know I’m only responsible for part of it. I – we – are blessed with stable and loving co-workers, probably the best we’ve had in our twenty-seven years of service. Pat, Debbie, and Mike S. do a great job of staffing the shelter; and Mike D. works the dining room one day a week (and covers for me when I’m sick or away). They do a great job and treat our guests with dignity and respect – and that makes my job so much easier.

There is a further reason why our work is so stable – you, our supporters. Why are we able to always have plenty of good food, make needed repairs and upgrades on our buildings, and ensure our bills get paid on time? It’s because of your ongoing generous support, whether it is financial contributions, donations of food or other supplies, or volunteering at the dining room. Your kindness enables us at Catholic Worker Hospitality House to daily serve those in need in our community. We can’t underestimate how thankful we are of all you do to make our work possible. You are the heart that keeps the body working. We thank you for all your past support and hope that you will continue helping us serve those in need in both boring and exciting ways.

 

In Christ’s Peace,

Peter Stiehler
For all of us at
Catholic Worker Hospitality House

 

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.
— Philippians 1:3-5