Reba: a survivor, chocked-full of motherly wisdom

Many Maryhouse guests go to Reba when they are in need of someone to talk to.

“They call me Mama Reba,” Reba said. “They come to me to talk and I listen. If they ask for advice, I give suggestions. I’m very spiritual. I have the spirit of God in me and I take that seriously and so do they. Sometimes I look into their eyes and hold their hands and let them know that they are beautiful and to smile because God loves them.”

Reba has experienced homelessness for almost a year.

To Reba, Maryhouse is a beacon of safety. Here, she is able to access a warm shower, hygiene products and clothing.

“I love being able to talk to all of the staff – Miss Debbie, Shannon, Judy, Hailey, Marlena, Ella and Kaylee,” she said. “I love talking to all of the ladies and having them watch out for me.”

“People don’t respect a woman who is homeless in any capacity,” Reba said. “Society expects women to know how to do everything, but being on the streets is really hard. It’s hard to find a place to sleep, to find a place to eat and to find a bathroom to use. The simple things are hard.”

She said that women experiencing homelessness are more vulnerable to sexual harassment and assault and often go about their days in a state of constant vigilance. They sleep with one eye open —  steeped in fear.

“I’ve been fortunate and I have been blessed because I have warriors and angels who protect me,” Reba said.

According to Reba, women experiencing homelessness who are physically or mentally disabled are extremely vulnerable on the streets. Their small assortment of personal belongings including their money, ids, clothes, cell phones, food stamps and mementos are often stolen from them.

“I see a lot of things that make my heart bleed,” she said. “People don’t have to be mean to us, but they are. They are mean to us because of the way we dress and sometimes the way we speak. It’s hard to see people get spit on or cussed out. They don’t know what we go through to get from point A to point B. If you don’t have money to get on the bus or take a taxi, then you have to jump on the train to get where you need to go and if you don’t have your ticket, you get a ticket. If people would be generous enough to pay for a packet of bus passes and drop them off at Maryhouse that would help a lot. It would help us go to doctors appointments, go to the grocery store or see our kids.”

At Loaves, Reba can get breakfast and lunch as well as new clothes each week.

“I don’t have to ask for food,” she said. “I don’t have to ask for clothes and during the day, I don’t have to ask for protection and I can lay my head down at night and know I am very protected by God and good street people.”

“Loaves & Fishes is a blessing,” Reba said. “It’s how Jesus started – feeding the people — and for Loaves & Fishes to be named after that is a beacon of light to me. It is so important for people who are hungry to spend the day here and to get whatever supplies they need and help as far as housing advocacy, food and mental health services.”

Before she started to experience homelessness, Reba worked as an executive assistant in Dallas, Texas and lived with her daughter and two grandchildren. Her dream is to live with them again.

“You can’t take what you have for granted because you can be one paycheck away from being out here and if you are not the kind of person who can adjust to change, you won’t make it,” she said. “You have to be able to adjust to change.”

Maryhouse’s Mother’s Day Celebration

On May 20th. Maryhouse celebrated mother’s day.

The hospitality shelter’s Mother’s Day brunch was hosted by the National Charity League, a national philanthropic organization which aims to cultivate mother-daughter relationships through community service, leadership development and cultural experiences.

The celebration which took place in the garden behind Maryhouse was especially sweet for the guests of Maryhouse who often exist in spaces that are traumatic and full of crisis. At the brunch, guests had the opportunity to slowdown and savor the simple indulgence of a celebration — a toast to their roles as mothers, sisters, daughters and friends. They were greeted with corsages and treated to a delectable feast composed of french toast casserole, egg casserole, buttery croissants, bacon, muffins, cupcakes and fresh sliced fruit.

They were waited on by staff and volunteers.

“At our mother’s day celebration, our guests are just generally treated like the wonderful women that they are,” Shannon Stevens, the director of Maryhouse said. “It is nice to have a day where our only job is to be present in a celebratory manner. We wait on guests, laugh and tell stories. Unlike routine days, when we are doing more intervention, the brunch is a real chance to slow down and enjoy everyone around us. It’s also incredible to have the opportunity to recognize the worthiness and radiance of our guests.”

The guests’ portraits were taken and they received gift bags with sunglasses, body spray, make up and a gift card.

“This is amazing! I’ve never been treated like a princess before,” one guest said.

Volunteers from the National Charity League provided a wonderful Mother’s Day feast for the guests of Maryhouse.

Christmas Brunch at Maryhouse

Every Christmas season, Loaves & Fishes hosts activities to celebrate our guests, many of whom have nowhere to go for the holidays. We believe that everyone deserves to celebrate during this time, and do our best to help make the holiday season a bit brighter for our guests.

With the help of generous individuals and groups, Loaves & Fishes is able to provide toys, Christmas, stockings, warm clothing, and hot meals to those who would otherwise go without this Christmas.

A very special event that we hold each year at Loaves & Fishes is our Maryhouse Christmas Brunch. During brunch, we are able to honor the women and families who visit Maryhouse, our daytime shelter for women and children. This year, volunteers and staff served a delicious hot meal to guests, and photographers from the community volunteered to take photographs of women and families. Our guests were then given photographs to keep, or share with loved ones.

Below is a gallery of photographs from this year’s Christmas Brunch. Special thanks to Gale Filter, Theodore Goodwin, and Doug Winter for volunteering their time and talent to Loaves & Fishes and our guests!

See Maryhouse First Hand – Watch the video

Homeless women, children, and families find respite during the day at our Maryhouse program. With your help we can provide a safe and welcoming place for some of the most vulnerable members of our community.

“Look, he’s trying to feed the baby.”

The moment that I walk into Maryhouse, I can tell that it’s been a lively morning. Not that it I’m surprised; there is never a dull morning at Maryhouse.

Both lobbies– downstairs and upstairs–are full of women, some waiting for showers, some waiting to talk to a Maryhouse staff member, and others simply relaxing, enjoying a safe space to pause and rest in the morning.

As I stand at the counter I notice Evelyn* with her two-year old son Dee* standing around the corner. Dee has a bottle tilted up to his mouth, spilling most of its contents down the front of his shirt. “We’re working on that,” she laughs, and reaches onto the counter to grab him a cup instead. “He’s better with cups,” she says.

As we continue talking, another woman walks into the lobby, pulling her children in a two-seated red wagon.

“Baby, ” Dee points.

Evelyn laughs “He thinks he’s a lot bigger than he is. Kids can be the same age or older than him, and he’ll point and say ‘baby’. I thought he was going to be jealous when his little brother came around, but no way. He loves babies. He loves taking care of them.”

As she was telling me this, Dee ran straight over to the wagon and climbed right in the middle of the other little boys. He made himself right at home in that wagon, and the other little boys didn’t seem to mind another addition to their vehicle.

“Look, he’s trying to feed the baby,” Evelyn said as Dee held his cup up to the other boy’s mouth.

It was an adorable sight, and I can only hope that each of these boys has a safe place to call home for the night…


*Names changed

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.

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.”