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

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SEPTEMBER 2019 APPEAL LETTER

by Christine Baker

 

SEPTEMBER 2019

Dear Friends,

One of my responsibilities at Catholic Worker Hospitality House is to keep the various buildings we use for our various service projects looking nice and in good repair.  As we have been entrusted with bountiful resources to serve those in need, we have a duty to protect and maintain them. I have to admit I really like this aspect of my job as I enjoy the physical labor. It plays to what I feel are my strengths as I am task-oriented, like exerting myself and getting dirty, and enjoy the sense of accomplishment when a job is completed.

Why do I do the painting and other maintenance around our various buildings?  Wouldn’t it be less demanding on my body and time to hire a professional? A big reason I do as much of the work as I’m capable of is that it saves CWHH a lot of money.  Paying for painting a house can easily run five to ten thousand dollars. Calling an electrician or plumber starts at $300 and easily gets into the thousands of dollars. That’s a lot of money that could otherwise go to serving those in need.

But there are deeper reasons why I do as much of the painting and maintenance work around CWHH as I’m capable.   One lies in the Catholic Worker belief in the basic dignity of working with one’s hands, of exerting oneself to create something useful and beautiful.   We’re inspired by the Benedictine motto of “Ora et Labora” – “work and prayer.”   Physical labor is seen as a necessary complement to a prayerful and reflective (or intellectual) life.  Work makes us whole. This is further echoed in a favorite motto of Peter Maurin, co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, “the workers shall be scholars and the scholars shall be workers.”  If we do one but not the other our life is out of balance and we are incomplete.

Besides the philosophical basis for laboring there is also the practical aspect that physical labor can unite us with those we serve and put us on more equal footing.  These projects break down the dichotomy of server and served that often exists in the world of social service. And furthermore, this work humbles me. In our daily work at CWHH I’m the authority. I set the rules and determine how things should be done.  My education, life experience, and position usually set me apart from those we serve. When it comes to maintenance or building projects I know enough to get started, but often it’s our guests who know how to do the project properly. I’m regularly humbled by my lack of ability and the skills of our guests.

This summer I took on the project of painting and repairing our house located at 672 Second Ave.  Of all the buildings we use for our various service projects, the Second Ave house is the most challenging and time consuming to paint.  It’s two and a half stories tall with shiplap siding (compared to stucco on the other buildings) and has a large front porch with lots of spindles.  Adding to the “enjoyment” of painting the house this year was the discovery during prep that some of the siding was in bad shape and the porch had rot in the decking and framing.

But the painting of the Second Ave house became a great example of how work unites and equalizes.  Mike, one of the residents of the house, was a painter before bad hips put him on disability. When we started preparing the house for painting he repeatedly corrected my slap-dash prep work: “Peter, you can’t just hose down the house and scrape off the big flakes of paint.”  “But I want to start painting, gotta finish this job.”   “Dude, if you don’t seriously scrape, sand, and caulk you’ll have peeling paint and leaks in two years. “ I learned to trust his knowledge and experience. So we took the time to properly prepare the house for painting. I may have the responsibility, resources and organizational skills to get the job done, but he has the skills to do it right.

The first day of painting was a joy, I was joined by three of the residents in painting the house.  Besides getting most of the house painted in a single day, we had a good time telling stories, and teasing each other.  At the end of the day when we were paint splattered and tired we stood back admiring what we had accomplished. It was a good time and we felt good about ourselves.

Regarding the questionable old siding, I turned to Mike for advice on what to do.  Could it be saved or would it need to be replaced? He assured me that if I did proper preparation, it would be good to go.  By now I knew enough to follow his advice, so I thoroughly nailed, scraped, sanded, and caulked the old siding before painting.  It came out great.

When it came time to preparing the front porch for the new decking Mike and I rebuilt one set of stairs.  I knew enough to have Mike do the “smart” work of cutting the stringers, while I did the organizing, shopping, and grunt work.  Our stairs turned out great. Again, at the end of the day, tired and dirty, we admired our work and felt good about ourselves. We even strained our shoulders patting ourselves on the back.

The dry rot on the other section of the porch required more expertise than Mike and I could muster, so we hired Rick, a guest at the dining room who is a professional carpenter, to do the work.  We sat back in amazement as he worked his magic, skill, and artistry. He did a much better job of repairing the porch than we ever could. Besides having an opportunity to earn some money and displaying his ample skills, Rick was able to give back to Catholic Worker.

Now fully painted with a refurbished front porch the house looks great (or at least better than before).  It came about because of many people sharing their gifts. When we deny people the opportunity to engage in common work and share their skills we are neither helpful nor loving.  A goal of the Catholic Worker Movement is to bring together people of varied talents and resources to make the world a better place – whether it’s through our dining room, shelter, or maintenance projects.  Some people have money, some have time, and others have practical skills. Individually, we may lack the ability to get a job done or accomplish a goal, but together we are able to do a job and do it well.

As always we are able to continue our work and witness because of your ongoing generous support of our work with those in need.  We give thanks for all your past support and hope that you will continue helping us help others.

In Christ’s Peace,

Peter Stiehler

For all of us at Catholic Worker Hospitality House

 

HOUSE NEEDS

Old-fashioned oats

Pasta sauce

Jelly

Napkins

Toilet Paper

Razors

Money for our ongoing expenses

 

June 2019 Appeal Letter

by Christine Baker

  June  2019

What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

By PETER STIEHLER

       What does a just society look like? In my opinion, it’s a place where all are treated with dignity and respect.  Nobody is discriminated against because of skin color, national origin, or religious beliefs.  People are free from fear of want and have the opportunity to maximize their potential to live a joyful life.  It’s community, belonging, and acceptance.   It’s people with skills and resources sharing what they have to help make the world a better place for all.  With that in mind, a just society, to me, looks like a modest two-story house in a suburban neighborhood of San Bruno CA that is the home of Catholic Worker Hospitality House (CWHH) where I have worked for the past twenty three years.  

       In February of 1996 when Kate and I moved into the house at 672 Second Ave in San Bruno we thought it would be a traditional Catholic Worker house of hospitality.  We had purposely gotten a large house so we could provide hospitality to those in need.  We quickly filled the extra rooms with people in need of shelter.  In April 1996 we started a free dining room out of a hall on the grounds of St. Bruno’s Catholic Church in San Bruno.  For two years all went according to plan.

       Then the parish started having issues with homeless people sleeping in the church at night. (The church is open all night as it hosts Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament). At a meeting called by the parish to discuss the problem, we offered to operate a homeless shelter out of the same building where we run our free dining room.  In this way, the parish could honor and care for the body of Christ in their midst while adoring the spiritual Body of Christ.  The parish accepted our offer and we now had the opportunity to provide shelter to more people.  This helped Kate and I as well, for at the time we were expecting our second child and felt the need for a family space separate from our work. In 2001 Kate and I had the opportunity to purchase a small house in Brisbane, which proved perfect for our small family and made the big house on Second Ave. available for expanded work.  So what to do with the Second Ave house?  First we had a young family live in the house rent-free for two years while they saved money to purchase their own house.  It was satisfying to help a young family find permanent housing just as we had been helped.  After the family moved out we had the idea to offer recent college graduates an opportunity to live at the house and work with us.  It would help us expand our work and allow these young folks gain work experience as we had in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. Four years later that idea ran its course and we started thinking about what to do next.

       Almost from the beginning of operating our shelter we had noticed the same folks cycling through our shelter because they were unable to find housing due to a severe lack of affordable housing in the Bay Area. For a couple of years we had been experimenting with subsidizing rent for a few folks with steady work or social security.  When that became financially unsustainable we thought, “Why not use the Second Ave. house for permanent affordable housing?”  So for the past thirteen years we have been using the house for that purpose.  Of all the projects we have done at Catholic Worker Hospitality House and of all the uses of the Second Ave house over the years, using it as permanent affordable housing has been the least “charitable” and the most “just” project that we have done.  

       Now, I really like our homeless shelter.  We treat our guests with dignity and respect, and do a good job of keeping it non-institutional.  I also know it’s often a life saving community resource that our guests greatly value.  But while a homeless shelter beats sleeping outside or in a car, by its very nature it’s not a nice place.  There is no permanence, guests have to be out during the day and sleep in a big room with eight other people with just a flimsy divider for privacy. Snores permeate the night. Then there are the set meal, wake-up, and lights-off times.  Even though we try our best, there is an inherent lack of dignity, freedom, and permanence in a shelter.

       Contrast that with our Second Ave boarding house, which is not just a place to sleep, but a home.  As long as they pay their very affordable rent and are a good roommate, residents can live there as long as they like.  At this point most residents have lived there from five to ten years.  Residents have the privacy of their own room, can come and go as they like, and eat when and what they want.  These simple things provide the foundation for a dignified, secure, and happy life.  Most of the residents of the house are grumpy old men who have not had the civilizing effect of women (wives) in their lives.  They rarely cook and eat meals together, nor do they watch TV or sporting events together, preferring to eat and watch TV in the privacy of their own rooms.  But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a sense of community in the house.  Most of the daily socializing occurs on the smoking porch.  There are the occasional backyard barbeques with friends and family to celebrate birthdays or whatever excuse comes to mind.  One of the resident’s regularly has his son and grandson to the house for heated dominoes games.  I know how much this means to him because in the years he was homeless he couldn’t “do the things a dad and granddad should do.”

       A common fear we all have is who will care for us after a serious illness or during our final days. This is especially true for people estranged from or without family.  I am moved by how these grumpy old men have repeatedly stepped forward to assist a roommate recuperating from a major medical issue or during the final days of a terminal illness.  While they won’t normally admit to feelings of affection for each other, their care shines forth when it matters most.

       I appreciate that the residents allow me to be part of the community of the house.  I’m at the house everyday as the garage and basement serves as storage and office space for Catholic Worker Hospitality House.  The guys welcome me on the smoking porch, invite me whenever there is a BBQ or party at the house, and occasionally join in the work of CWHH.  While they often tease me about being “the overseer,” over the years as we’ve daily shared our lives and work, the relationship has shifted from one of landlord-tenant to friendship.

       When I first dreamed of living out my faith by working at a Catholic Worker House I envisioned rough neighborhoods, grand actions, and dramatic background music.  But after thirty years of trying to live the life, I see it’s about daily doing small simple acts of kindness to bring comfort and joy into the lives of others. Whether that’s by providing a hot meal, a blanket, a place to live, acceptance, or a corny joke.  It’s about sharing what you have so all will have enough, maximizing prophetic witness instead of profits.  It’s about living justice wherever you are given the opportunity to serve. Whether it’s rough neighborhoods or average suburbs, people still need to be loved, treated with dignity and respect, and given an opportunity to live the best life possible.  Kate and I are forever grateful all for the resources and opportunities that have been given us to serve those in need in our community.  We hope we have been good stewards of these gifts and a witness to our faith by our daily work.  We give thanks for all of your past support and hope that you will continue helping us help others.  With your ongoing support, together we can continue striving to make the world a better place in small and large ways.

In Christ’s Peace,

Peter Stiehler

For all of us at Catholic Worker Hospitality House

 

 

HOUSE NEEDS

Coffee

Sugar and creamer

Napkins

Toilet Paper

Soup bowls and spoons

Money, for our ongoing expenses

April 2019 Appeal Letter

by Christine Baker

April 2019

 

            Be Compassionate, as your Father is compassionate.  Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.  Pardon, and you shall be pardoned. Give, and it shall be given to you. Good measure pressed down, shaken together, running over, will they pour into the fold of your garment.  For the measure you measure will be measured back to you.     –- Luke 6: 37-38

 

Dear Friends,

I have a bad memory.  Now this can be both a blessing and a curse in our daily work at Catholic Worker Hospitality House.  The blessing is that it enables me to forget the misdeeds of certain guests at our dining room and shelter, instead of holding onto a grudge and refusing them hospitality.    But the curse is that I annoy my poor co-corkers, as I too often hear from them: “Did you let Mr. A back into the shelter?! Last time he was here he did x, y, and z and we had to kick him out” or “ I saw Mr. B was at the dining room today.  I thought you had banned him for doing q, r, and s repeatedly? My usual response is: “Oh, Jeez, I totally forgot.” I know that my actions drive my co-workers to distraction, but I would like to think that my forgetfulness is a form of passive forgiveness.  I believe strongly that we must forgive the misdeeds of others if we want God to forgive our own. And as I’m well aware of my myriad misdeeds, I try to give folks a second, third, or forth chance before I impose any sanctions on them.

Now passive forgiveness has its place, but there are times when we must practice active forgiveness.  I remember a time when a guest did something really bad and for years I couldn’t forgive and let it go.  I held on to it, let it fester, and, as forgiveness is at the core of our faith, I let it effect my prayer life.  How could I come before God to seek forgiveness and redemption when I was unwilling to give it to another? I don’t know if my lack off forgiveness affected the person I couldn’t forgive, but it sure had a negative effect on me. When I don’t forgive I separate myself not only from my fellow man, but from the love of God as well.  When I do forgive and let go, I’m able to move on and stay in communion with God and others.

I try to remember that we are all better than our worst action.  As Christians we believe that regardless of the transgression committed by the individual there is the possibility for reconciliation and a return to wholeness.  Our faith teaches that as long as the person acknowledges their wrongdoing, shows repentance, and does some sort of penance, we can welcome the person back into full communion with the community.  And ultimately, don’t we want the wrongdoer to be welcomed back into the full graces of the community? In our spite and anger we often say, “lock ‘em up and throw away the key,” but the world is a better place when our neighbor reforms, repents, and is welcomed back.

In my time at Catholic Worker Hospitality House I have seen numerous guests at our dining room and shelter who at one time were wild, out of control, or just plain bad.  But then something changed in their lives and they became a different person. Our challenge is: do we remember the out of control person or do we embrace and support the reforming person?  In the retelling it seems the transformation is instantaneous, one day they were bad and the next they were good. But in reality it’s a process, often a very long process with plenty of fits and starts: a decision is made to try to be better, baby steps are made, then a few more, until gradually over time the new way gains strength and the old bad habits fade.  Over the years we have seen the power of forgiveness work miracles in those we serve. I have seen numerous people who I personally thought were hopeless cases end up transforming their lives. It always starts with people forgiving themselves and starting to walk the road of personal transformation. Our challenge is to try to forgive past actions, believe in attempts at reform, and support and encourage where possible.  We always rejoice when we see such transformations.

In our daily work at Catholic Worker Hospitality House we do our best to embody the way of forgiveness; to assist with the healing of individuals, society, and, ultimately, ourselves.  We thank you for your support of our efforts at healing and reconciliation, even when it seems foolish and hopeless. Together we are “fools for Christ” who are doing our best to embody the Kingdom of God here and now.

 

In Christ’s Peace,

Peter Stiehler

For all of us at Catholic Worker Hospitality House

 

HOUSE NEEDS

Oatmeal

Canned fruit

Coffee and creamer

Canned fruit

Toilet paper and napkins

Large and tall trash bags

Razors

Money, for our ongoing expenses

 

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY HOSPITALITY HOUSE

On April 1, 1996 Catholic Worker Hospitality House opened its doors for the first time, serving a ham and potato dinner to five thankful guests. Twenty-three years later we’re still going strong.  Five mornings a week we serve hot meals to 60-70 guests with over fifteen folks taking showers during the mealtime and every night we offer emergency shelter to eight individuals. We also operate two boarding houses where a total of fifteen individuals have permanent affordable housing.  We’ve been able to not only continue our work, but greatly expand it over the years because of your generous and faithful support. We thank you for all you have done for those in need in our community over the years and hope that you will continue helping us help others.

February 2019 Appeal Letter

by Christine Baker
February 2019

Dear Friends,

On December 15 John Linker, a long-time resident of our Second Ave House passed from this life to the next after a long battle with cancer.

While John would occasionally eat at our dining room, we really didn’t get to know him until a neighbor of the shelter complained about John’s constant presence on his street—John would stand next to a gas station wall across the street from our shelter all day, every day, nursing a beer (or three) and smoking cigarettes. In an effort to be good neighbors, our response to the neighbor’s complaint was to invite John to spend his days in the backyard of our Second Ave house, where he could drink his beer and smoke his cigarettes without troubling anyone.

I wasn’t sure how this would work, as I initially found John intimidating and did my best to steer clear of him, he wasn’t aggressive or troublesome, he just had a visage that said “leave me alone, don’t mess with me.” Surprisingly, John was a perfect guest and fit right in with the group of guys at the house. A few months later when a room became available, he moved into the house.   For the next four years John was an exemplary tenant and roommate. He could always be found on the back porch smoking a cigarette and nursing an Olde English beer.

Six to seven years ago, before he lived with us, John developed bladder cancer and received treatment that sent the cancer into remission. Then a year and a half ago the cancer returned. He started receiving chemotherapy and radiation treatment, but after a while it became clear that he wouldn’t survive this round of cancer.

We started making plans for his decline: switching, then eliminating the chores he did around the house and planning a move to a downstairs room when he would be unable to manage the stairs, etc. His biggest fear was that we would evict him from the house as his disease progressed. We assured him that it was our goal to keep him in the house as long as possible, hopefully until he died. That put him at ease while he continued with his treatment.

We didn’t quite achieve our goal though. After a long, slow decline, John had a precipitous drop-off in his condition the Monday before his death. On Wednesday we called his nurse from Mission Hospice, to tell of his condition and ask for assistance. She came to the house immediately, cleaned and sedated him and helped us move him to a downstairs room. His condition continued deteriorating, he was losing dexterity and all coordination, to the extent that he was unable to hold a cigarette and experienced repeated falls. On Thursday his nurse arranged for John to move to one of Mission Hospice’s care facilities and on Saturday he died peacefully hours after I visited him for the last time.

While John’s passing at the early age of 60 years old is sand and untimely, I have been trying to see the good in his time with us.   John went from being homeless and isolated, basically friendless, to living in a nice home with caring roommates; he became a valued part of a community. While he had the dour personality of Eeyore, it was clear that John enjoyed the companionship found at the Second Ave house. As his disease progressed he was especially thankful to have a place to live during his medical treatment and eventual decline where he could be comfortable and continue doing what he loved most—smoking cigarettes and drinking his Olde English beer.

We are thankful for the opportunity John gave us to live our faith by the practice of two of the Works of Mercy: Care for the Sick and Bury the Dead. As John had no family we claimed his body, had it cremated per his request, and found a final resting spot for his earthly remains.

A few weeks after his passing we held a memorial service at our Second Ave house, John’s final home, in which friends and roommates gathered to remember John’s life: we told stories, laughed, and to honor John—drank some Olde English beer and smoked cigarettes on the back porch.

Rest in Peace John, you are missed.

In Christ’s Peace,

Peter Stiehler for all of us at Catholic Worker Hospitality House

________________________________________________________________________

Over the years you, our supporters, have been so very supportive of our work at Catholic Worker Hospitality House and for this we are eternally grateful. We simply would not be able to do our daily work of feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and so much more without your kindness and generosity. In this letter I want to give something back to you.   I want to share a poem that has comforted and inspired me for decades.   I don’t know if it ranks up there with the great works of poetry, but it has meant a lot to me. I first came across this poem one Sunday during college while straightening missals and song books in the pews of my parish church. I saw a folded yellow sheet of paper in one of the missals. I intended to throw away this piece of paper, until I opened it, read it, and was instantly moved. Over the years I have repeatedly stumbled across this poem on a yellow sheet of paper and it has never failed to inspire. Recently I encountered it once more and again found it comforting and inspiring. I hope you find it as moving as I have. Enjoy.          –Peter

THE DESIDERATA

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.  As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble, it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery.  But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass. Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.  Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive God to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.           –Max Ehrmann

 

Thank You San Bruno Community Foundation

by Peter Stiehler

Thank you San Bruno Community Foundation!  We are once again recipients of a grant for the operation of our emergency homeless shelter at St. Bruno’s Church, this year the grant was for $20,000.  This generous grant from the San Bruno Community Foundation will help us continue providing safe and dignified shelter for homeless individuals in our community.  We are very fortunate to be in a community we our work is both accepted and supported. Again, thank you.