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

News Archive

16 Articles

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.

 

 

It’s Gotta Be The Joy

by Kate Chatfield

Some say working the soup kitchen best defines the Catholic Worker.
Some say opening your home to the lonely and destitute best defines the Catholic Worker.
Some say resisting the war makers, doing the time, refusing to go along with the greed and violence best defines a Catholic Worker.
Some say it’s all of these, knowing full well that the best we can do is plant a few seeds, knowing full well the harvest is a long time coming.
But, deep down, really, in our hearts of hearts, we know…
It’s gotta be the joy!
You lose the joy, you lose it all.
No joy, no hope.
No joy, no endurance.
No joy, no understanding of suffering.
No joy, no meaning of life.
No joy, and it’s just another year on Guantanamo.
No joy, and we’re all just doing time on the planet.
Oh yeah-
It’s gotta be the joy!!

– BRENDAN WALSH, Viva House Catholic Worker, Baltimore.

FEBRUARY 2017

Dear Friends,

I was so moved when I read the above poem by Brendan Walsh that I had to make it the focus of this letter as it speaks to why I’ve stayed a part of the Catholic Worker Movement for over twenty-five years. Brendan and his wife Willa co-founded Viva House in Baltimore and have been living the Catholic Worker life for nearly fifty years, working with the outcasts of a downtrodden city and speaking truth to power. So when he says, “it’s gotta be the joy,” he knows what he’s talking about. And if you ever spend time with Brendan and Willa you’ll feel the joy they radiate.

At first glance it may seem odd to say the hallmark of Catholic Worker life is joy as daily we’re surrounded by brokenness and suffering—folks living on the street, seeing long time guests fighting the demons of addiction and/or mental illness, alienation and separation, visits to jails and nursing homes. It’s enough to make one weep. Yet despite all this, the Catholic Worker is a surprisingly joyful place. I’m always amazed and uplifted when I am greeted at the dining room with smiles, fist pumps, and silly jokes or when I see folks chatting and laughing with friends over a hot meal or helping out around the dining room.

I guess the thinking is how can someone be joyful if they are destitute and broken physically or mentally? But anyone can be joyful, it doesn’t take money or prestige, it just takes the willingness to see the good around you, to let others into your life and to enter into the life of others, to be engaged in the affairs around you—joy comes from being involved.

I think that’s why the Catholic Worker Hospitality House is such a joyful place. It starts with relationships – the friendships and sense of belonging that develop when we open up to each other. Then there is the opportunity to assist. Whether volunteer, staffer, or guest, we are invigorated when we join others in meaningful work, when we help to make the dining room (and the world) a better place. It can be as simple as sweeping a floor or helping to serve meal, yet that simple act unites us to something larger and gives us purpose.

I know this letter is a bit “Pollyannaish.” I realize I have a tendency to focus on pleasant aspects of life rather than the unpleasant ones, but I seriously believe that if we’re to keep hope alive there must be joy. The joy we’re talking about here is not merely “smiles and laughs” (although those are abundant), it’s contentment and acceptance, a sense of peace. I think this is what Jesus means when he says, “Peace be with you. My Peace I give to you.” He’s saying, “you are loved and valued by God even with all your brokenness. Now go, share that love and work to make this world a better place.”

So at Catholic Worker Hospitality House we try to accept ourselves, love our neighbor, and continue our humble work. This is what keeps me going, it is joy that keeps us all going. We thank you for being a source of this joy. We thank you for helping make our work possible with your time, talents, and treasures.

Peter Stiehler

For all of us at Catholic Worker Hospitality House

  • HOUSE NEEDS
  • Canned Fruit
  • Coffee and creamer
  • Napkins
  • Rain ponchos
  • Money, for our ongoing expenses

TINY HOUSE UPDATE

We’re finally making progress on the interior build-out of our tiny house! We received our tiny house on Thanksgiving Day, but between the rush of the holidays and stormy weather we weren’t able to do much more than paint the exterior and finalize the interior floor plan by the middle of January. But over the past couple of weeks Aaron Castle and I (mostly Aaron) have insulated the interior, done rough installation of electrical and plumbing, framed the interior walls and platform bed, and meet with a finish carpenter who’s offered to help with cabinets and counter tops. After a slow start it’s encouraging to see the progress were now making.

In late December there were a couple of local newspaper articles about our Tiny House Project that brought us to the attention of San Bruno city officials. In mid-January we had a meeting with building, planning, and community development staff about our Tiny House Project which went as expected: they praised the work we do in the community, acknowledge the great need for affordable housing, and then said all the reasons why our tiny house on wheels does not meet their current building or zoning regulations. But we are all committed to further meetings to see how tiny houses can be a part of our community. We’ll continue with the process and see what happens. In the meantime we’ll continue working on the house and looking for a home for our tiny house. 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.

 

“No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless.”

by Kate Chatfield

“No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.”         — Dorothy Day

December 2016

Dear Friends,

Since the November election, I’ve felt heartsick, hopeless, and fearful. I’ve been with young people in tears, terrified of being deported. I’ve sat with a young Muslim woman who was afraid to leave her apartment. I heard from a gay man who is painfully reminded of the bullying and belittling he was forced to endure throughout his childhood. Women are publicly denigrated, reduced to sexual objects; people of color are told that no, their lives and their human rights actually do not matter; Muslims are threatened with a registry and internment camps are hinted at; the physically disabled have been mocked; immigrants have been told that they will be deported. We have all been told that our planet is not worth saving; climate refugees are on their own.

And the poor? The homeless on our streets? There has been no suggestion that there will be any compassion for the least among us – the cold, the hungry, the physically and mentally ill. Christians are commanded to care the most for the stranger, the hungry, the homeless, the imprisoned, the sick. The rich man who neglected Lazarus was condemned. Now, the rich man who has shown his contempt not only for so many human beings, but for the very notion of compassion, has millions of followers.

We began to despair. We realized that millions of people view those about whom we care the most — the poor, sick, imprisoned, immigrants – as contemptible, expendable, less than human.

However, despair is a luxury that we cannot afford. The rain still falls while there are homeless on our streets and in our doorways. Our efforts are so small, but we will stand up and continue them. We will imagine into existence another world. We will continue to welcome the stranger, whoever that person is. We will continue to feed, clothe, and shelter the poor, and we will increase our efforts. We will continue to gather, and pray, and remind ourselves that whatever an executive, or a legislature says, we will love our neighbor as ourselves. We will protect those who others will not.  We will remember the words of Dorothy Day: “People say, what is the sense of our small effort? They cannot see that we must law one brick at a time, take one step at a time. A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions. Each one of our thoughts, words, and deeds is like that. No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.”

For the past twenty years the light of your faithful support has emboldened us to continue feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, and comforting the afflicted.  We thank you for your past generous support of our work with those in need and hope you will continue helping us help others.

Wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Kate Chatfield

For all of us at Catholic Worker Hospitality House

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.

Thanksgiving 2015

by Peter Stiehler
Thanksgiving 2015

Dear Friends,

Thanksgiving will soon be upon us. Over the years 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
  • Money to cover other expenses
  • If you can provide any of these items please call us at (650) 827-0706.