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.
For all of us at Catholic Worker Hospitality House
- Dish soap, cleanser, bleach
- Laundry soap
- Canned soup
- 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.