Defining Gubbio

The Gubbio Project is a thousand strong. We are the 200+ people who come seeking rest and shelter each weekday on the hard pews in the beautiful, dry, safe, and warm-ish sanctuary of St. Boniface Church and St. John the Evangelist. We are the 100 more who daily come to use the clean and drug-free bathrooms, to get a razor, toothbrush, or a blanket, or to find out where they can store their stuff or get a shower. We are the 12 staff members who hold the sacred space in the church, keep it clean, outreach to the community, and share our vision of a church that is radically inclusive and walks with those who are down-trodden.

We are the 70+ volunteers who come every month to share a meal they have prepared, to assemble toiletry kits, to buy the cleaning supplies, to provide a listening ear to those in the community who are in need. We are the 11 Board members who gather monthly to reflect on what it might mean for church to be sanctuary, to figure out how to embody the belief that there is that of the divine in each person, and to strategize how to pay the bills and continue the work. We are all those who hold this Project in their hearts and pray for us. We are the thousand men, women, and children who have donated supplies and finances to the Project this past year. We are the parishioners from the 5 Catholic churches (and the students from the parish schools) that collected toiletries during Lent. We are the parishioners from the 6 churches that opened their doors to have Gubbio staff share at their masses, and their wallets to share what the Spirit lead them to give. We are the people in the church in Los Angeles who collected money for 35 sleeping bags because a teen there gave his away to someone in need. We are the people who read the Chronicle article, were moved by the story, and wanted to be part of providing "sacred sleep" for our unhoused neighbors.

We are the people in our partnering organizations who go out of their way to make the cafeteria available for breakfasts, who respond to our security needs free of cost, who share their worship space with us.

It is not the case of "we could not have done it without you" but more "we are doing this work - all of us." Each person who donates a pair of socks, brings OJ to the Friday morning breakfast, sleeps on the pew, or donates $2 makes the Project what it is. You, who are reading this newsletter, have, and are now participating in the work of keeping the doors of the church open, of walking with our brothers and sisters without homes, of declaring that yes, to be a sanctuary for those on the margins is a good and right use of church space.

Seeing As God Sees

by Laura Slattery, Executive Director, May 2016

The Gubbio Project had the opportunity to reflect on the Scriptures at St. Boniface one Sunday in March.  Two of the readings for the day dealt with seeing. In the first, the prophet Samuel explains that “God sees not as people see,” looking not at the exterior of a person, but at their heart.  In the gospel story, Jesus heals a blind man.

As part of my reflection I shared that I often feel ‘blind’ when I see only the exterior of people and judge them to be ‘homeless’ or ‘addicts’ immediately.  I lament when it is my second or third thought, and not my first, that the person I am seeing on the street is my brother or my sister and wonder how long it will take me to be the kind of person that I seek to be - one that sees or notices first the heart, or the suffering, or the beauty, of a person, and not their material, living, or mental health condition.

In researching for the reflection, I came across a fascinating description of what it is actually like for people who were born blind to have an operation and be able to see.  According to one surgeon learning to see for the first time is a surprisingly painful process that can take years.  From Emilie Griffin’s book, Souls in Full Flight:

The patient on opening his [sic] eyes gets little or no enjoyment; indeed, he finds the experience painful. He reports only a spinning mass of light and colors. He proves to be quite unable to pick up objects by sight, to recognize what they are, or to name them. He has no conception of space with objects in it, although he knows all about objects and their names by touch.... His brain has not been trained in the rules of seeing. We are not conscious that there are any such rules; we think we see, as we say naturally. But we have in fact learned a whole set of rules during childhood. (p. 143-144)

More research for the reflection revealed a series of studies done by social neuroscientists Lasana Harris and Susan Fiske in 2006 and 2007.  They first studied what happened in the brain when people viewed photos of those they considered outcasts (i.e. lowest on a scale in their minds in terms of warmth and competence, those to whom they could not relate).  The part of the brain that recognizes someone as a fellow human being did not light up; their brain registered them the same way it would if they were looking at an object! In equally important follow-up studies they discovered that when people thought about preferences, wants, or idiosyncrasies that the people in the photographs whom they considered outcasts might have, the area of the brain being studied did in fact light up.

The take away from this research is that it seems that science is giving me, and us, a way to understand what the Scriptures instruct.  It is possible, and necessary - albeit a long process - to train our brains to see anew and heal ourselves from our blindness.  When it comes to those to whom we consider outcast - whoever they may be - when we think about their needs or preferences, we literally humanize them in our brains. And this is good news for those of us interested in “seeing as God sees.”

Gubbio Positioned to Start Second Site

by Laura Slattery, Executive Director, November 2015

For those of you who have been supporters of the Gubbio Project for the last several years, you know that a theme of ours during that time has been encouraging other places of worship to open their doors to those living on the streets the way that St. Boniface Catholic Church has done for the last 11 years. We have touted the benefits of opening one’s sanctuary to the homeless guests, the volunteers, and the parish. We have quoted Scripture and the pope; given rational, theological, and practical arguments about sacred space; preached in a number of churches; and talked on the phone with scores of religious leaders.

Well, it looks like the work, and the Spirit, have made it happen. Starting in December, gratefully before the worst of the El Nino effects begin, we hope to partner with St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church in the Mission for 4 hours each weekday. It will be a pilot project for the next 7 months. We hope to provide the same essential services that we have been providing at St. Boniface – weekly breakfasts, massage, haircuts, HIV testing, and foot care – at this second location.

As we have done for the past 11 years, we will continue to provide “sacred sleep” to the hundred plus people who seek an oasis from the streets of the Tenderloin at St. Boniface. We will continue to provide a ministry of presence, essential items such as toiletries, socks, and blankets, access to bathrooms, and referrals to where guests can get much needed services. At the request of the parish, however, we will no longer provide the breakfasts, haircuts, and other services that we used to provide.

Thank you for all the support that you have given over the years as we continue to walk with, and be in community with, our brothers and sisters who live on the streets, worship in the pews, and live in the area.

Who's Going to Say They're Sorry

by Laura Slattery, Executive Director, October 2015

When we as a society finally understand that the people who have been living on the streets are our brothers and sisters; that they are vulnerable, treated inhumanely day and night, are ignored, and are criminalized unfairly ...

When we realize that they are worthy of more than mini-homes, overcrowded shelters, or no shelter at all; that they deserve more than our scorn, our impatience, our fear ....

When we see that those who struggle with mental illness or chemical dependency are parents, children, siblings; are afraid just like we are, have dreams just like we do, need love and care, and to be seen ....

When we get that race and gender are constructs and diversity is to be celebrated, enjoyed; that not everyone has the same experience in their body; that we as a society have criminalized and moralized people for who they are ....

When we finally wake up and invite people from the streets into houses ...

Who will apologize to them for the years of neglect and indifference? Who, on behalf of society, is going to say, "we're sorry for not recognizing your humanity and prioritizing you?"

Training in Awakening

by Laura Slattery, Executive Director, February 2015

I wanted to take a moment to respond to the incident that happened a couple of weeks ago when a cop was tasked with waking a homeless person up who was sleeping on a bus that had come to the end of its line near Ocean Beach.

The task of waking up homeless people is one that is not relished by the Gubbio Project staff and volunteers, but one in which we have become experts. We wake our unhoused neighbors up from the sidewalk in the morning at 5:45 am, from the front of the church when they fall asleep in those pews reserved for mass and prayer, from out in front of the church during the day, and finally from the pews at 2:45 pm when it is time for us to close. We must wake up 100 people a day that don't necessarily want to be awakened.

It is not an easy task, and probably our least favorite. It takes training, patience, compassion, more patience, time (that we sometimes don't have), and a bit of humor. And so it is with this expertise, and compassion for the 'awaking officer,' that I offer my insights on the incident.

In response to the characterizations from the Public Defender's Office that Police Officer Chu had "lost his temper" and that his actions were a "reckless and unnecessary escalation of force," Police Chief Suhr defended Officer Chu saying that he was acting as he was trained to do. While Suhr is probably speaking truth, it only makes the matter worse. It begs the question of anyone who has seen the video , And
what training is that?

A better response would have been for Chu to admit what the Public Defender's Office said was true - he did escalate the situation. It is understandable. Most people have had to put up with someone who was drunk. And it would be hard not to sympathize if Chu came out saying "I was impatient, and in my effort to accomplish my task - to get Mr. Warren off the bus - probably hurried him along too much. I got triggered when he insulted me, challenged me and offhandedly threatened me."

This self-knowledge and analysis is what I would expect of my staff if we had an incident here at Gubbio. Is it too much to ask this of those who are entrusted with the safety of the whole city?

Mr. Warren played his part in this incident. But he did not deserve to be beaten, pursued, and pepper sprayed, and then to spend two weeks in jail. He owes an apology to be sure for the way he acted, but he certainly deserves an apology as well.

Along with training in CPR/First Aid and working with folks who have mental health issues or suffer from addiction, I offer the staff training in knowing their triggers and in de-escalating situations. We use these skills every day. Wouldn't it be great if, after Chu's (suggested) acknowledgement of getting triggered, Police Chief Suhr could defend his apology saying "he was simply doing as he was trained."