In the early morning hours on Thursday, January 28th, 2016, the Denver Catholic Worker House, a house of hospitality for people experiencing homelessness, caught fire and was burnt out. Fortunately all 12 residents are now safe, one having been hospitalized for smoke inhalation. Although some lost everything, walking out without shoes on, thankfully no one was seriously physically injured. Now we are attempting to put our lives back together, trusting in provision and trying to imagine what it will mean to rebuild.
All 9 of our guests where given vouchers by the American Red Cross which they could use to stay in motels on a temporary basis (we aren’t sure how long). Unfortunately, when these vouchers are used up, neither they, nor our live-in workers will have a home to return to. As is the tradition of the Catholic Worker, volunteers are unpaid and live with our guests in voluntary poverty. As we attempt to think about what our future as a community will look like, the realities of Denver’s unaffordable rental market are very real to our workers as well as our guest. Our entire yearly budget has been about what a small low income family lives off of, and we have been a household of 12 to 15 people. This has been possible, in part, because of the support of our long time landlord. Needless to say, the small amount of reserve money in our bank account will not be sufficient to cover the cost of finding a new home, and at this point we do not believe that we will receive any insurance settlement for our losses.
But, so goes the life of the Catholic Worker. Since our movement began in 1933 in New York City, the 200+ Catholic Worker Communities across the globe have intentionally lived with little more security than the unhoused guests we offer hospitality to. Or at least we strive to live in solidarity with the poor as family and friends, rather than make a profession out of charity. We do not receive any government funding, nor do big businesses tend to support our efforts. So without assurance of the future, our mission does not change – to be a community of hospitality and grace, living simply and attempting to serve and share in the struggle which our sisters and brothers on the streets face daily, trusting in provision and human expressions of love.
As news has gotten out about the fire, we have been reminded by former guests, workers and strangers why our work is so important. There are countless more living without housing within the city of Denver than there are services to help. It has been this way for a long time, only worsening as federal funds for affordable housing have been decimated, while wages have remained flat and rent has increased astronomically. The emergency shelter system is overburdened and degrading, unable to match the needs of the people within the system, offering little more than a cot in a crowded room full of strangers without the promise of future housing options. Along with the burning of the Catholic Worker House came the loss of the only room designated for unhoused couples without children. In other circumstances, men and women would be separated (regardless of commitment) and same sex couples wouldn’t be recognized as partners.
What many have reminded us that the Catholic Worker has offered, since Anna Koop and her friends opened the house in 1978, was a home where people were accepted as friends rather than clients; a home where each person had a door to close and a community to break bread with; a place where justice and peace is practiced not only in demonstrations and vigils, but also in the daily sharing of life together; an anomaly in a society that spends more money on economic development and the incarceration of poor people than it does on providing safe and affordable housing for those struggling through this system. We pray and hope that these priorities change. And we wish to continue to be a part of that change, as co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement Peter Maurin said, “To create a world where it is easier for people to be good.”
Our future does look precarious, but we are attempting to find a way forward together, trusting in provision and the support of others. If you would like to join us in this work, we ask first and foremost that you consider how you might be able to extend hospitality to those without, within your own circumstance. Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, believed that if each of us took responsibility for each other, there would be no need for impersonal and degrading systems to take care of ‘the poor’. “If your brother is hungry,” she said, “You feed him. You do not turn him away from your door and say ‘go be thou fed’.” If you would like to open a room up within your own home for someone who is going without housing, and are unable to find someone on your own, please contact us and we will refer someone to you.
If offering a ‘Christ Room’ to someone without housing in your own house is not feasible, and you would like to contribute to the work of our community, we would be grateful for support. As many of our guests are scattered in motel rooms across the city and we ourselves have no room to store blankets and clothing, we cannot accept large donations of physical items. Motel vouchers are greatly appreciated. Many of the guests are in need of clothing, and gift cards to stores like Ross, Target or the ARC are appropriate. Healthy food is a high priority, and gift cards for grocery stores are also welcome.
For years, Denver Food Rescue has delivered leftovers from grocery stores to the Catholic Worker House and we have organized it and redistributed it to low income families living within our neighborhood. Thanks to the Little Flower Catholic Worker House – a new smaller house of hospitality – we will continue this program to the best of our abilities. Kristen, who has spearheaded this effort is welcoming help on Sundays. Also, a permanent live-in worker volunteer opportunity is available at the Little Flower Catholic Worker House. Contact Carol Briggs for more information – [phone redacted].
Lastly, we would like to open another house soon. We are grateful for any financial contributions and if there is a parish, community, church or individual who is able to donate a property to our efforts, we would be more than happy to speak with you. Please feel free to contact any of the following people to arrange donations or connect with us.
Anna Koop – [phone redacted]
Marcus Hyde – [phone redacted]
Jennifer Haines – [phone redacted]
Kristen Brunelli (to help with food)- [phone redacted]
Any checks can be made out to The Denver Catholic Worker House and mailed to:
1023 26th Street
Denver Colorado 80205.
For now, Mass/Prayer continues at the regular time, Thursdays at 7:30pm, and will be held at 3024 Elizabeth Street. All are welcome, regardless of religious affiliation.
This past Thursday, on the evening of the fire, we read in the scriptures that there will be ‘house for God’s people.’ We understand more now than ever that we must create a sense of home among each other. ‘There are still many for whom there is no room in the inn.’ But there will be a house for the people of God.
Thank you for your prayers and good intentions.
In peace and solidarity,
The Denver Catholic Worker Community