Dining Room and Homeless Shelter
At Catholic Worker Hospitality House we operate a free dining room and emergency homeless shelter on the grounds of St. Bruno’s Catholic Church in San Bruno. Five mornings a week we operate a free dining room with 70-80 guests joining us for breakfast. Besides the hot meal guests can use the shower, get food to go, and see about availability in our homeless shelter. Every night we operate a year-round emergency homeless shelter with space for up to 9 guests. Guests usual stay from 2-3 weeks, but length of stay varies according to guest.
Our work at the shelter over the years has shown us the great need among our guests for affordable and supportive permanent housing. At present we operate two such houses (one in San Bruno, the other in South San Francisco) with occupancy for eleven residents. We have a third house that is occupied by a young family.
“Our Little Building”
The following essay follows two days in the life of the little building we use for our dining room and homeless shelter, St. Raphael’s Hall. Originally a humble two-bedroom house in the neighborhood, it was purchased decades ago by St. Bruno’s Catholic Church and remodeled to serve as a parish hall.
On Tuesday, Peter along with volunteers Bernadette and Joan arrive at 5:30 a.m. to prepare breakfast for 60-90 guests we serve each morning. Eddison and shelter guests put away beds and set up tables for the breakfast, folks take showers and get a cup of coffee, breakfast is prepared and served, and friends enjoy each other’s company. After 9:00 a.m. Norma, Pablo, and Eddy begin breaking down tables and cleaning the building, while Christine prepares for the 10:00 a.m. arrival of students from the Adult Transitional Program (ATP). The ATP prepares young adults with developmental disabilities for deeper community involvement and, if possible, employment. We are one of the sites where they volunteer their time. Christine, together with the ATP teacher, assists the students in preparing a meal for our shelter guests. As this is going on, Peter spends the day picking up donations, writing thank you cards, returning phone calls, taking guests to appointments, and performing any number of assorted tasks. At a little before 5:00 p.m. Eddison opens the shelter, volunteers and shelter guests begin arriving for dinner. Dinner is served, after which beds are brought out and dividers placed between beds. Guests take showers and socialize. The television is on, with some watching and others chatting. Lights are out by 10:00 p.m. and soon snores replace the sounds of television and conversation.
Morning comes too early as the day begins much like the previous one with breakfast preparations. However, after breakfast and clean up on Wednesday, children from around the neighborhood begin to arrive with mothers, fathers, grandparents, or sitters in tow. These toddlers and pre-schoolers are here for a pre-school story-time. The Project READ van shows up, the listening carpet is put out on the floor, and stories are read and songs are sung. Afterward art supplies are brought out with children sitting around the table drawing, cutting, painting, and creating. They take turns to enter the van to look at the books or play the games there. Free books are distributed, the van and teachers leave, but the parents linger, chatting while children race around or look at their new books or draw. Eventually everyone leaves and the building is quiet for a few hours until shelter guests and volunteer arrive again at 5:00 p.m.
Can a building be used too much? Sometimes, during a quiet period in the middle of the day, I imagine our little building resting from the sound of voices, and beds being rolled back and forth, and the clanging of folding chairs, and feet—both big and small—walking across it. It seems the plumbing always needs fixing. Twenty or so showers are taken in our one shower stall everyday, day in and day out. Our two toilets are flushed scores of times every day. So, we occasionally shut down and patch and paint for a few days and then swing open our doors once again.
And though I asked the question, I’ll answer it. I don’t think a building can be used too much, when that use is to serve our brothers and sisters. There are many scandals in all of our churches (spare me from recounting them here, it’s too depressing), not least of which is that there are buildings that sit unused during most of the week when people sleep on the street, and children come home to empty houses, and laborers wait on street corners for low-paying jobs. Use the buildings to serve the poor—you’ll grow to love them ever more (both the buildings and the people).