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

Dear Friends,

On a Monday morning in early February I returned to our Second Ave house to find Mike waiting for me on the front porch. “I think we have a problem inside,” Mike said. “Oh, no, is it Roger?” I responded. It was an obvious deduction as Roger had recently returned home after a stint in the hospital and rehab (I wrote about him in our last newsletter) and wasn’t doing well. “No, it’s Howard.” So I quickly went into Howard’s room to check on his condition and found he was dead. Apparently, he had died of a stroke or heart failure over the weekend.

Howard was a beloved figure at the house. He lived at the house for close to five years and had been a shelter guest off and on for a couple of years before that. Shortly after moving into the house he took over the job of washing the two to four loads of towels from the dining room and shelter every day. The last two years he was part of the shelter staff, working the overnight shift one night a week and covering other shifts as needed. There were times I felt like we were taking advantage of an elderly man (Howard was 81 when he died), but in talking with his daughters they told me how much he loved working at the shelter and doing the laundry as it gave meaning and structure to his life. And as a retired electrician we regularly turned to Howard when we needed help with an electrical issue. Despite all he did around the house and the shelter, Howard was not beloved for the work he did, but because of the person he was: kind, generous, easy-going, and a pleasure to be around. He embodied all the stereotypes of the Jamaican immigrant that he was: hard working, joyful, and possessing a hard to understand accent.

While Howard’s death is obviously sad and we continue to mourn his loss, we are able to joyfully reflect on his time with us. At Catholic Worker Hospitality House he found a stable home and a community of friends; he had a meaningful life in the service he provided at the shelter; the stability he found also made it easier for him to reconnect with his family; and in the end he had a quick and peaceful passing. Clearly this is “successful” hospitality if there ever was.

At the heart of the Catholic Worker Movement is the daily practice of the Works of Mercy. We daily “feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked, and give drink to the hungry” at our dining room, shelter, and affordable housing units. But we don’t often have the opportunity to “bury the dead,” but with the passing of Howard we had that opportunity. Since Howard’s death I’ve been reflecting on the question of what it means to “bury the dead?” The most literal meaning is to put the dead body in the ground and have a funeral service. But in practice it means so much more.

After finding Howard’s body I called 911. Over the next few hours, I was present to answer questions as the police arrived, followed by fire department EMTs, the coroner, and finally representatives from a funeral home. Later in the day I started receiving calls from his daughters. They wanted to know what had happened and started making funeral plans. A week later his daughter Shelley came into town (she lives in New York City) to gather meaningful personal effects of her father and help with cleaning the room. While Howard had contact with his family, there had been periods with little to no contact between them. So she also wanted to talk with me about her father – his health before he died and what his life had been like at the house. I realized this was another aspect of “burying the dead.” The family seeks comfort in photos, possessions, and stories of their loved ones; and that is something we are able to provide.

While the family had plans for a funeral service in New York, where most of them live, we wanted to memorialize him as well. So a couple of weeks later we held our own memorial service for him at the house that included shelter guests and residents of the house. We all enjoyed sharing stories about Howard, reading scripture, and afterwards sharing a pizza lunch. It helped to bring closure and to bring us closer together.

But “burying the dead” didn’t end there. While the family took some valued possessions of Howard’s and started the process of cleaning his room, it was left to me to finish clearing and cleaning his room in preparation of a new person moving into the room. Usually when someone moves out it’s a fairly simple process: clear and clean the room, then move in the next resident. this time it was a bit more complicated. I felt it important to move Roger into Howard’s old room, as it was closer to the bathroom and smoking porch and, more importantly, didn’t have any steps asRoger can barely walk. So after clearing and cleaning Howard’s room we had the “joy” of also moving, clearing, cleaning, and painting Roger’s old room. After moving Roger we then moved Jane and Bill, a couple that lived upstairs, into Roger’s old room as it gave them more space. Finally, I could move a new resident into their old room. PHEW!

As this story shows the practice of the Works of Mercy, while usually listed separately, are in reality often combined. Not only were we “burying the dead” (Howard), but caring for the sick (Roger), and housing the homeless (maintaining and preparing rooms for old and new residents).

We are so blessed at Catholic Worker Hospitality House in our work of daily practicing the Works of Mercy. We touch other people’s lives and they touch ours. Even in death there is much life. And in the process we are able to live out and spread the Love of God in the world, not with words but by our actions. But we do not do this alone, we thank you for all your help in making this possible and hope that you will continue helping and joining us in the daily practice of the Works of Mercy.

In Christ’s Peace,

Peter Stiehler
For all of us at
Catholic Worker Hospitality House

 

Addendum
As I was about to mail out this letter we experienced another death at Catholic Worker Hospitality House. On a Thursday evening Gary, a long-time dining room guest died just outside the shelter. Debbie, who was working the shelter that night, had been informed by another guest that Gary was sitting in the plaza of St. Bruno’s Church and looking quite ill. She went out to check on him. He refused her offer to call an ambulance, but did ask for food, which she brought. When I stopped by 20 minutes later to check on him he was dead. The above letter talked about what a “nice” death Howard had; Gary’s on the other hand was tragic. He was over thirty years younger than Howard, had clearly just been released from the hospital (he was wearing scrubs and had a hospital wristband), and there was an empty vodka bottle next to him. Gary had long struggled with his alcohol use and it finally caught up to him. Please join us in keeping Gary in our prayers.

February Appeal

by Ella Chatfield-Stiehler

February 2023

Dear Friends,

In early January we had to call an ambulance to take Roger, a long-time resident of our Second Ave boarding house, to the hospital. For several days prior he had been declining physically and mentally to the point where he couldn’t even walk to the bathroom. Our hope that day was that maybe a few days in the hospital would stabilize him so he could come back home. Roger is a fixture at the house and we would love to have him back. As I write this letter in late January we still don’t know what will become of Roger, but it’s looking like he won’t be returning to the house.

When I shared this story at our Monday morning Catholic Worker Mass in Redwood City, Larry Purcell of the Redwood CityCatholic Worker House remarked, “Another successful hospitality.” I was taken aback by Larry’s comment, but I knew what he meant. We got to know Roger as a regular guest at the dining room and shelter. He had been homeless for years and that life had taken a toll on him; when we brought him into the house he was getting to the point where he physically could no longer live outside. Roger found a home at our Second Ave house. For over ten years he had stable, decent housing, a community of friends who cared about him and looked after him, and a place where he could give back by helping keep the kitchen clean—he particularly loved washing dishes, which is always a sure fire way to gain popularity! He also brought great joy to the house with his “demented” humor. I also think of how Mike S., a resident of the house, cared for Roger the past several years: doing his laundry, shopping for him, changing his bandages, and helping him with electronics, like his phone and TV. Without Mike’s aid Roger would have been out of the house years ago. Instead, he was able to have several more years of independent living. So, yes, Larry was right, Roger’s time with us was a success.

Larry’s comment on success also made me think about what is “success.” To be honest, I’m not usually motivated by the traditional notion of “success”—How many people did you serve? How many people got jobs or housing? And so on. Instead I tend to focus on such questions as: did the dining room open on time? Is it a welcoming environment for our guests? Was there plenty of good food? Was there hot water for the shower? Do our boarding homes provide permanent affordable housing that the residents are proud to call home? Do we treat our guests with dignity and respect? My hope is that the answer to these questions is always a resounding “YES!” But to be honest there are times when the answer is “mostly, usually, could be better.”

We are continually trying to improve our facilities and the services we provide to our guests. To borrow a phrase from 12-step programs, “we seek progress not perfection.” If we have had any “success” over the years it’s been due to your continued support of our work, and for that we are very thankful. We hope that you will continue to help make our work possible through your generous donations.

 

In Christ’s Peace,

Peter Stiehler
For all of us at
Catholic Worker Hospitality House

Christmas Appeal

by Ella Chatfield-Stiehler

CHRISTMAS 2022

Dear Friends,

In our world today it seems the Christmas season is primarily viewed as a time of giving and receiving gifts instead of honoring the birth of Jesus. You can’t turn on the television or walk into a store without being barraged with Christmas merchandising. To be honest, I can’t claim to be totally innocent of this myself, I like giving and receiving gifts. There is nothing wrong with this, as it is a way that we demonstrate our love and affection to another, but obviously it shouldn’t be the focus of Christmas.

In the Gospel of Matthew (ch. 2) we see the Magi bringing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh as an expression of their adoration of the baby Jesus. While these tangible gifts are admirable, and in the case of the Magi largely symbolic, the deeper question is what are the true gifts we are to bring to God?

A couple of examples from the Hebrew Scriptures of what we should give to God immediately spring to mind. First, there is Psalm 51: For in sacrifice (gift giving) you take no delight, burnt offering from me you would refuse, my sacrifice (gift) a contrite spirit, a humble contrite heart you will not spurn. Then there is the prophet Micah (6:8): You have been told, O man, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: Only to act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly with your God. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is asked by a Pharisee what is the greatest commandment, he responds simply: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…and love your neighbor as yourself. (Mt.22:34-39)


It seems to me that the greatest gift we can give to God is our lives. A beautiful example of giving back as an example of thankfulness is that of Mark, a long-time shelter guest who is one of the new residents at our Second Ave house. Usually when someone from the dining room or shelter receives permanent housing we rarely, if ever, see that person again. But in Mark’s case we now see more of him as he started coming to our dining room every morning to clean the bathrooms at the end of our serving time. I expressed how appreciative I was of this gift and that he didn’t have to do it. He responded “This is my way of thanking you (and all at CWHH) for what you’ve done for me.” I was deeply moved. I was even more moved a few weeks later when Mark and Darla, the other new resident at the house, helped George (a VERY long time guest at the shelter) find permanent housing. For years I, and other staff members have been trying everything we know to urge George to get housing, but he was very resistant. Then Mark, his long-time friend whom he trusts and listens to, started assisting him. First, Mark took George to Social Security to get him on SSI which increased his monthly check from a couple of hundred to close to $1000 a month; then he helped George set up a bank account so he could deposit both the social security money and a small inheritance he had recently received. But then the question arose of how to get George into permanent housing? This is where Darla steps into the picture. She talked with her former landlord, who operates several boarding houses in the area, and convinced her to accept George as a tenant. The landlord had concerns about George, but she decided to rent to him as she trusted Darla. Next thing we knew George had signed a lease and moved into permanent housing. All this because Mark and Darla wanted to give back for all they have received; they expressed their love of God through serving and comforting others. What better way to give thanks and praise to God for all we have received in our lives?

This is what we attempt to do at Catholic Worker Hospitality House on a daily basis. We try to express our love and commitment to God through loving our neighbor (the daily practice of the Works of Mercy). What better gift can we give God? For over twenty-six years we have been able to continue our work because of your generous support. We hope this Christmas season you will continue sharing your gifts with us so we can continue serving those most in need in our community.

 

In Christ’s Peace,

Peter Stiehler
For all of us at
Catholic Worker Hospitality House

 

Gift Ideas

If you’re interested in providing a gift for one of our guests, may we suggest the following: sweatshirt, thermal underwear, hat and gloves, socks, or underwear. Whether homeless or housed, our guests spend a lot of time in the cold and would appreciate any of these items. Gift cards are also very much appreciated, especially for places where folks can pass the time: coffee houses, restaurants, movie theatres. We thank you for your generosity in helping to make this holiday season special for our guests.

Christmas Dinner Needs

We will once again be hosting a Christmas Dinner for all our guests. This year we will be able to return to a sit down meal after a couple of years of serving food to-go only. 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 10:00am – 11:30am Thursday, December 22. We will be serving the meal between 11:30am – 1:30pm 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!

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.