With these experiences I have felt every emotion possible.

Cyndi, Former Maryhouse Director [2011 – 2016]

Today is my last day at Maryhouse. I first came here in 2008 as a volunteer and then had the honor of serving as Director the last 5 years. I didn’t know much about Maryhouse or Loaves and Fishes when I first came, but I knew I was somehow called to be here.

I’ve heard hundreds, probably thousands of stories during my time on North C Street and listening has been the most important part of my job. The women and children who come to Maryhouse demonstrate both bravery and vulnerability as they reveal their stories of tragedy and triumph. It has been an honor to sit alongside our guests and provide the presence and compassion that they deserve. I’ve always thought of these conversations as Sacred Space and they have changed me in a profound way.

During my time at Maryhouse I have witnessed moments of sorrow, joy, and beauty. I have witnessed the resilience of women facing and overcoming violence, trauma, and loss. I have witnessed the strength of mothers fighting with blood, sweat, and tears to shelter their  families. I have witnessed the funny faces that babies make when their mothers feed them oatmeal. I have witnessed smiles of gratitude and faces filled with hope.

With these experiences I have felt every emotion possible. I have felt frustration that there aren’t enough services for those that are homeless and in poverty. I’ve felt anger that there are children sleeping on the streets of Sacramento each night because our community fails when it comes to providing adequate emergency shelter. I have felt joy at the news of a woman getting keys to her own apartment after years of chronic homelessness. I have felt comfort from a guest who noticed I wasn’t feeling well and offered me a hug.

So it is with bittersweet sentiment that I say goodbye to Maryhouse. To our guests, staff, and volunteers…I treasure the stories we have shared and you have forever touched my soul.

“Well, I like drinking coffee here…”


“Katt we’re capturing stories about North C Street, is there a story you would like to share?”

She adjusted her cross-legged position & took a long drag of her cigarette, “No, I mean where do you even begin? Too many stories. Too many years. Too much.”

“Well, what about your favorite part about Maryhouse? Would you like to share that?”

“Oh man. Okay. Well, I like drinking coffee here. I drink way too much coffee every morning & I get all shaky & you & Shannon give me granola bars & always make sure I eat breakfast to get rid of my shakes. Every day. Always asking me if I have had breakfast.”

She lifted her hands to show me if they were shaking, as she knows I ask her every day how she’s feeling. “See, no shakes today. Only four cups so far!”

“Well we just want to make sure you’re okay & you get enough to eat.”

“I know, I know. You guys really take care of me here here. I really love you guys a lot.”

She sat for a moment, looked up, smiled from ear to ear, “And I know you love me too because you always give me coffee & feed me breakfast.”

We sat for a moment as she sipped her coffee.

“And, any time I say I love you, you always say it back. Because that’s what you do when you love someone.”

She’s right. She is so loved.

5 O’clock on North C Street

5 o’clock on North C Street is very different from what one might imagine. It’s so quiet, a quiet that is not familiar to this campus during operating hours. There are people set up in random spots, drinking water or smoking. Sometimes they are chatting but most often there are blank stares, I can’t help but wonder if those blank stares and slow movements are physical laments. Small acts of crying out about injustice.

On Friday all I wanted was to get home. I was tired and as I packed up my things I was a little grateful that the street would be so quiet that I could just walk to my car and drive off without incident.

What I should know by now, nearly 3 years into employment on North C Street, is that if you ever think something will be incident free, you are wrong.

I opened my car door and heard, “Hey! Hey! You! Hey!”

It was a familiar voice, Alicia. I just love Alicia, she’s funny and she’s beautiful and, she is living with severe mental illness.

Alicia walks up and down North C Street every day in layers of clothing that are so incredibly dirty. Alicia has not showered in months and it’s obvious. Alicia can’t hold a linear conversation for too long without talking to people I can’t see or cursing about something.

“Hey, Alicia. What’s up?”

“Is my son in there?”

“In where? In Maryhouse?”

“Shut up! Are you open? I need to go in there.”

“No, my dear, we close at 2:45.”

“Well, what the $#&* time is it?”

“It’ 5 o’clock, we haven’t been open in quite a bit. Your son isn’t in Maryhouse, I was the last one in the building.”

“I told him to wait for me. I told him I would be right back.”

“I’m sorry, Alicia.”

She was holding cheap smokes, her nails were black underneath. She would scratch her head and look right through me as I spoke.

She walked off cursing at someone or something.

We know part of Alicia’s story but even more, we know her.

We care about her and these moments are so hard but we try to find glimmers of beauty in the dark.

Harnessing Hope


“Okay ladies! Here we go, it’s that time.”

“Ohhhhh maaaaaaaan! Again? Alright, alright.”

Ladies who’ve made themselves at home on benches throughout our back patio space get up slowly, the way my grandmother did, grunting and groggy from relaxation. Their arms bend slower than usual, they are weary from the life that ages them, life outside.

Tracy scrambles to pack her things up, really she is just making a mess. We go through this every day.

“Tracy, you gotta be kidding me. You know what time we close, what are you doing?” I laugh to lighten the mood but inside I am impatient and frustrated. It’s true every day she is the last one to leave but the first one I tell to grab her stuff. Tracy struggles with alcohol and other drugs, she lives with mental illness.

B is talking to herself in sentences that make no sense to me but she bops her head back and forth, waves her hand about, pulls her pants up over her behind and tries to pack her things. Today a co-worker notices that her belly is a little bigger than usual. She seems to be pregnant, she is in the grips of addiction, she lives with mental illness and now she seems to be pregnant. Our hearts break as we know that the way this happened was likely traumatic.

“Nah girl, that’s my bike.” Ashley giggles, she knows her bike should not be where she stowed it, we don’t have the space for it but she doesn’t have the money to buy a lock.

“Ashley, you break these rules all the time and I can’t help but smile at you, what’s up with that?”

“It’s because I’m so cute and you love me. “ She’s right.

R walks out with her 10 month old baby, the light of my day. “Okay, but wait, Shannon, before I go can you tell me if the shelter will let me other kids in too?”

I ask her to come see me tomorrow for more of a talk. I take her son, into my arms and squeeze him tight, we scream little screams together, he steals my glasses off of my face and I tell him he’s just the best and I love him.

Out the back gate they all go. 10 months old to 50+, they wander into the afternoon which turns into the dark and lonely night.

I hope with all my might that they come back tomorrow.

This is often the hardest part of our work at Maryhouse, harnessing hope when it seems often like there just isn’t enough to go around.

Maryhouse Welcomes, Kaylee!

I received the warmest welcome on my first day at Maryhouseand Loaves & Fishes. The entire tour of the campus (more like a university) took an entire hour! I learned so many names and received so many smiles! Some staff, not all from Maryhouse, even knew a bit about me, like my previous job was at the Sacramento LGBT Community Center, including Sister Libby.

This was beyond flattering.

At a glance, I’m absolutely amazed at the sheer volume of homeless folks are served. But where Sacramento seems to fall short with resources and housing, there’s no shortage of kindness and hospitality at Loaves and Fishes. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to join this amazing team and serve guests at Maryhouse.


“mail check please”


On most days at Maryhouse, my daily tasks consist of your usual front desk activities – answering phone calls, welcoming and informing new guests of the services we provide, maintaining the front lobby, and what most people would find to be tedious work – filing mail for approximately 600 women (correct me if that amount is incorrect). Filing that amount of mail can be overwhelming to some, but it’s when you get to be the person that hands over the mail to a guest that makes it ALL WORTH IT. 

On most days, I often here “mail check please” and without hesitation I respond “last name?”. This position has afforded me the blessing of learning each guests’ name very quickly, where I don’t even need to ask their name because with one glance or the sound of their voice, I already know who I’m digging through the files for. Today though, I dug through the files for a woman who was impatiently waiting for a very important, high priority piece of mail. It had been her third day in a row at my desk praying it would finally be in the file waiting for her. Today, there it was. With such pleasure I handed over a DMV envelope with her name on it, and said “would this be what you’ve been waiting for?” In a moments time, tears came to her eyes, she bowed her head down with such relief, covering her face with her hands to hide the joyous tears rolling down her cheeks. Caught up in the moment she could barely speak.

I want you to take a moment and reflect back to the day you turned 15, maybe 17, and on that day you knew you were about to take on the world no longer as a teenager, but as an adult because you hold your very first license.

Most days I hand over the mail, and hear the dull voices repeating “ugh bills, bills, bills” or when there is no mail to hand over its often “well, I guess no news is good news”. Caught off guard in this moment with a woman crying over a piece of mail, all I could think is “thank god, my co worker is standing next to me because I’m not sure how to react, I’ve never had someone cry when I handed them their mail.”  I learned an ID had much more power than I had ever thought before.  She stared at her ID with such joy, she was speechless.

My days at Maryhouse remind me how often an ID is needed and unfortunately, how often an ID is stolen. An ID for me at 17 meant freedom from my parents, an ID for our guests of all ages means an approved housing application, another piece to a job application completed, a way to get bus tickets, a way into a shelter, a means to claim their paycheck, proof of their legal name and birthday, to keep a car, to go to school, to receive social services, and a sense of identity. She came back the next day to apologize for her previous tears, stating “I’m so sorry, I was just so happy that ID means I can start my life again.”

BINGO glimmers

“Biiiiiiiingo! Ladies, I am here for BINGOOOOO!”

Rosemary, our dedicated volunteer, glides through the lobby singing that it’s time for the weekly BINGO game. Today, she is a whole day early so it’s a surprise to the ladies. Today they thought they’d have another day of conversing with each other, sitting or sleeping in comfort, waiting for our doors to close.

“What? It’s Thursday? We get BINGO on Thursday? Here I come.”

“I want in!”

“Wait for me!”

Our guests hurry to gather their belongings and head out to the back patio where the game takes place. Begging for the game to wait just another minute until they can reach the table.


Once outside, they mark their number. They talk about the week. They laugh, they lament and they just are.


These glimmers of normalcy are priceless, for all of us.

Sometimes, even the most difficult moments in this work call for a good laugh

I heard our front door swing open and I heard her voice before I even saw who it was. I smiled and said aloud to my coworkers, “Sue!”

I walked out of the office into the lobby to Sue standing in the doorway, wearing her long blue coat, her blonde hair combed to perfection, all while grinning from ear to ear. Sue was one of the first intakes I completed upon starting at Maryhouse and her genuine nature and kind heart were difficult to forget.

“Kansas! Oh, girl! Would you just look at me? How good do I look? This is what twenty pounds down looks like! Don’t I look good?”

Sue wrapped her arms around my neck and held on for a while. She kissed my forehead, pushed me back with her hands steady on my shoulders while looking at me through her crooked, gold framed reading glasses.

“You look great, Sue! Are you taking care of yourself though?”

With a mischievous grin she responded, “Absolutely! It’s called the homelessness diet. You just walk miles and miles to get to every appointment & you eat one meal a day. It does the body good; kind of like Wheaties!” Sue laughed hysterically as one hand remained on my shoulder as she doubled over in laughter.

“Sue!” I responded with laughter, “Only you could find humor in all of this!”

“Yep, it’s how we all survive around here. I’m still breathing right? And guess what?” She promptly put both hands on her hips, “Now, I even look good doing it!”

Sometimes, even the most difficult moments in this work call for a good laugh. Sue is our reminder of that.

She maintains beauty.

She can often be found darting from one end of campus to another, carrying a pot of dirt or a sickly flower that needs a little love. Most recently she hauled a giant watermelon, grown in her garden shouting, “Isn’t this cool?”

Her name is Donna. 25 years ago she was homeless and she’d say, hopeless but by what she calls a miracle, she found “Fishes and Loaves”. She walked onto the campus of Loaves and Fishes broken on the inside from emotional abuse, dirty on the outside from sleeping on the bare earth and longing for a place to call home. It was a long road for Donna, she got clean and relapsed, she refused to wear shoes, she refused help, over and over for years until the day she was ready to start taking small steps. Until the staff and volunteers earned her trust.

Donna used Maryhouse services regularly, she built relationships and she is on the journey of restoration. Five years ago, the staff who’d earned a space to listen and speak into her life, urged her to consider taking a permanent bed at Sister Nora’s Place, an on campus housing program so, she did and found it to be match. Shortly after her move in another offer was made by Sister Libby, residential gardener so, Donna went for it.

Having no experience in gardening Donna struggled until she flourished along side her plants.

Today Donna tends to each plant as if it were her child. She nurtures their grown from seed to bloom. Donna, with her presence and patience for plants, maintains beauty in a space that can often feel so chaotic. We are all so grateful for her labor of love.

“Hey now, it’s always good to be seen!”


“Good morning, how are you?”

“I’m blessed. Very blessed.”

More often than not this is the response from our women as they enter our back patio gate every morning. They are often pushing squeaky carts with shaky wheels, overflowing baby strollers filled with all that they own, or tattered and torn suitcases that have seen better days.

One by one I wish them good morning, trying my best to remember each and every guest’s name, looking them in the eye as they beam with excitement when they are called.

“Good morning, Kathleen. It’s good to see you.”

“Hey now, it’s always good to be seen!”

At this back gate every morning I am met with genuine smiles, with optimism that another day has come and strength that seems so effortless. But these women are coming in after long, cold, sleepless nights. It is not often that they have a night of sleep where they do not get woken up and asked to move by police officers or property owners. Or, a night in which they feel safe enough to even fall asleep at all for fear that may be physically or sexually assaulted.

Nevertheless, these women come in every morning, day after day, feeling blessed. Feeling gratitude for being seen for who they are despite experiencing nights many of us know nothing of. They are mothers, grandmothers, daughters, sisters and nieces, and homelessness does not define them.