October 21, 2015

History of André House

André House Origin

André House of Arizona became more than a concept on October 1, 1984, when two Holy Cross priests from Notre Dame rented a house in a working-class neighborhood in Phoenix. They came to live in the community and serve in the tradition of the Congregation of Holy Cross and the Catholic Worker Movement (co-founded by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin). Their mission was to respond to the basic needs of the poor and homeless people while encouraging others to do the same. On November 29, 1984, the first guest was welcomed, beginning a long tenure of hospitality. Shortly thereafter a community of volunteers formed to minister to the needs of the guests and the neighborhood.

André House’s First Meal

On Christmas night, 1984, the André House a community of volunteers made a thick turkey stew from donated food and served it at a nearby city shelter. The recipients were deeply appreciative and the volunteers enthusiastic. From this humble beginning, the food-line developed: serving one night a week, then two, then three…  Volunteers and donations increased and the evening meal is now offered six nights a week, serving on average 600 plates per night.

For over 9 years the food for the evening meal was prepared daily in the backyard of the men’s house (1002 W. Polk St.).  Volunteers would join the staff for several hours in the afternoon, chopping vegetables, buttering bread, and preparing the food for transit. Then they would take the food (and tables on which to serve it) down to the “shelter district” (close to the present building) and serve whoever wanted to eat.

André House’s Services

Other services sprang up in response to the needs of the guests, including: a house in which to welcome homeless women (January 1987), emergency foodbox distribution to the neighbors, free clothing distribution, and education and recreation programs for the neighborhood children.

St. Joseph the Worker

In addition, a job development ministry, called St. Joseph the Worker, was founded in 1987 by André House volunteers wanting to assist homeless and otherwise poor people in finding employment.  St. Joseph the Worker opened its doors to those seeking employment on April 30, 1988, in a rented storefront along Grand Avenue, not far from the Polk House (and adjacent to the Clothes Closet). In 2006 St. Joseph’s acquired a new, larger space across the street from our Hospitality Center and continues to expand and provide job assistance to our guests.

André House’s Hospitality Center

In 1991, the building housing St. Mary’s Food Bank (“The World’s First Food Bank”) became available.  After much discussion with the city and county zoning boards, André House acquired the building and property on May 1, 1992.  After three years of fundraising and renovating, the Hospitality Center was opened (June 1, 1996) and has been open ever since.

André House’s Continual Expansion

Moving into the Hospitality Center allowed for an expansion of services. André House assumed responsibility (from St. Mary’s Food Bank) for a daily breakfast in the parking lot until August 1996, when that service was discontinued. Having the large building made it possible to offer bathrooms to the guests throughout the day, as well as showers, a clothing closet (where clothing is offered four times a week for free), laundry facilities, a large kitchen, and two dining rooms.  In addition, St. Joseph the Worker (now an independent organization) moved into the building in June 1992.

New Transitional Houses

In November 2005, after over 20 years of residency at the original Polk Men’s house and many years at the women’s home, we moved into two transitional homes on a shared plot of land right down the street at 1203 W. Polk. We had purchased the land and built the homes side by side, from the ground up, with the commitment and support of the large André House community.

Madison Street Veterans Association

In 2009 a group of homeless vets call the Madison Street Veteran Association moved into the space that had been occupied by St. Joseph the Worker. Their ministry is reaching out to other homeless Vets. This continues the long tradition of André House working with other organizations offering services to our guests.

André House: 25th Anniversary

In November 2009, André House reached its Silver Anniversary. To celebrate this milestone, we had a large 25th Anniversary party/reunion in January 2010, with many former Core Staff members, volunteers, and even guests come for a weekend of activities. These activities included a reunion party on Friday, an informal morning on Saturday with stories shared by the former directors and staff, as well as an opportunity for all to help in our regular services Saturday afternoon/evening. Sunday morning of Anniversary weekend we celebrated in traditional André House style with Mass and a potluck brunch. We are thankful for the many hands that have gone into building André House into what it is today. The seeds planted and the faith of the founding members proves to bear fruit today as André House continues to faithfully serve our guests today.

Canonization of St. André Bessette, our namesake

In October, 2010, the namesake of André House, Br. André Bessette, C.S.C. was canonized a saint. The two Holy Cross religious serving at André House went to Rome for the canonization Mass celebrated by the pope. Then, in January 2011, around the feast day of St. Br. André Besette, CSC, we had a special mass and potluck at the Main Hospitality Center.

Congregation of Holy Cross and Core Community

Since the earliest days there has been a continual presence of Holy Cross priests and brothers, as well as laymen and women on the “Core Community” of André House.  These are the full time volunteers who staff the place and oversee the day-to-day ministries.  Holy Cross personnel are typically assigned to André House by their superiors.  Others come because of a connection from a Holy Cross school, the Newman Center at ASU, former experience as a short term volunteer, or word of mouth.  The commitment for Core members is a year at a time.  Since the first group was formed they have received a monthly stipend, as well as insurance and room and board.  The number on the Core Community varies from 4-10 each year.  Besides doing the “work” of André House, Core members rotate the responsibility of offering a reflection at daily Mass, leading a noon prayer, and initiating discussion on various topics concerning our experiences.  They are encouraged to receive Spiritual Direction and go on a retreat annually.

André House Volunteers

We have been extremely blessed with a very large number of talented and dedicated volunteers. Since André House first opened its doors, people have come asking to share in the ministry. In the earliest days the people from the Franciscan Casa worked hard to see that AH would be successful.  Other parishes and organizations, such as St. Timothy’s and Holy Spirit Parishes, SRP (Salt River Project), U-Haul, National Charity League, various high schools and honor societies, and many other “regulars” not only kept AH going; they helped to sustain the ministries in the long run. Additionally, families and individuals still show up in force daily to assist with sorting the clothing, cleaning the kitchen, and preparing and serving the meal.  It is no stretch to recognize that there are over 6000 people who assist us at André House annually.

Neighborhood Connections

In moving into the Hospitality Center, the vast majority of the day’s focus is centered there. Whereas clothes, food, and other items were given from the house on Polk, now those services (and much more) are offered at the hospitality center. Still, there is a desire to connect with the neighborhood around Polk. To that end, a weekly program for neighborhood children was established and continues to operate today. Those children who participate in the “Ninõs Program” gather or are picked up by AH volunteers every Saturday afternoon for an activity which is geared toward academic, social, cultural or athletic growth. Also, Mass is celebrated at Polk on First Fridays and on major holidays, and our neighbors are always invited to these.

Phoenix Connections

André House has also responded to various needs during its history in Phoenix. There have been numerous discussions, debates, retreats, protests, and community organizing efforts throughout our years of service. Different Core Staff members have brought their unique gifts and interest to other events, such as Artists’ Attic, a weekly gathering of guests and volunteers for the purpose of expression through creativity in art and music. Other activities have become “traditions” at André House and are held annually: the washing of feet on Holy Thursday, a Good Friday Way of the Cross service through the Capitol Mall area and Shelter District, and a pre-Thanksgiving prayer service at the county cemetery are among these.

Solar Panels

In 2011 André House made another important transition into the modern era. We added solar panels to the roof of each of the buildings (Hospitality Center, Transitional Houses, and staff house). At each building all the hot water is heated by the solar panels, and at the transitional homes the electricity comes from the solar panels. This change helps keep André House environmentally and fiscally responsible and takes advantage of the hot Phoenix sun.

Responding to the Needs of our Guests

There are other opportunities and needs in which André House can be involved. Affordable housing is a tremendous need among those who come to use our services at the building.  Furthermore, some guests are undocumented immigrants who cannot obtain services they need from most places because they lack identification and legal status.  Mental illness affect a vast majority of our guests, as does drug and alcohol addiction. Finally, as the city of Phoenix grows (and grows!) there seems to be a desire to “clean up” certain areas that accommodated the homeless and working poor. Specifically in the downtown area, there is a growing movement to construct high-rent lofts and condominiums, which effectively “out-prices”and displaces most of our guests. Although some good programs exist to help, many guests struggle to find adequate health care or health care insurance. In difficult economic times, programs for people who are poor tend to lose funding first. These are a few of the many issues and opportunities which will demand our attention in the future.

From its modest beginnings in 1984, André House has grown to be a significant provider of basic and transitional services in Phoenix and a leader for social reform in this state.  Despite its size, it has not lost the hospitality which is its essence.  Throughout the Diocese of Phoenix, André House is recognized as a place where faith and service meet, where generosity is discovered and praised, and where the Body of Christ both serves and is served.

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