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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida.
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
Interviewee: Robert Baker
Interviewer: E. Dumas Schneider
March 19, 1993
S: This is an interview held on March 19, 1993, with Father Robert Baker of the
Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine in St. Augustine, Florida. I am Elizabeth Dumas
Schneider, and we are in Father Baker's office at the Cathedral Basilica on 35
Treasury Street. The University of Florida's Oral History Project is conducting a
series of interviews to study and record the problems of homelessness in the region.
Father Baker has granted me this time with him to discuss his work with the
homeless which dates back at least to the 1970s when he directed the Catholic
Student Center in Gainesville. [He] founded the Gainesville St. Francis House.
Since then, he has been involved in founding several homeless shelters and is
currently directing the St. Francis House in St. Augustine.
I want to thank you very much for your time and ask if my little summary was
B: I am no longer on the board of St. Francis House in St. Augustine; my time has
passed and I have moved on to a new project. I am helping to found and act as
executive director of St. Vincent de Paul Farm, a program for trainable homeless
men. It is about ten miles west of St. Augustine on State Road 16.
S: First of all, I would like a little information about you, if you do not mind. Are you
a native of Florida?
B: I am originally from Ohio. I was ordained a priest in my hometown of Fostoria,
Ohio on March 21, 1970. I celebrate my twenty-third anniversary as a priest in two
days. I was ordained as a priest to work in the Diocese of St. Augustine, Florida.
Bishop Paul Tanner ordained me a priest, and he is still living. He is residing in All
Saints Nursing Home in Jacksonville. I came here (to Florida) in June of 1970 to
begin work in St. Paul's Parish in Jacksonville Beach. That was my first assignment.
S: That was your first assignment after being ordained? You went straight to Florida
S: When did you begin social work activities?
B: Actually, in my first assignment, we had a lot of transient people in Jacksonville
Beach. I toyed with the idea and actually began looking into setting up a shelter
there. But that never really panned out, probably for a number of reasons. I was
only there two years, and I was assigned to study in Italy for a doctorate degree after
two years. So that may have been part of it. I happened to come across an article
somewhere from the early days, when we were actually planning to set up a relief
effort of some kind there, and there is a ecumenical soup kitchen now in Jacksonville
S: Were you exposed to any similar conditions in Italy that you can comment on?
B: In my days over in Italy, I was heavily into academics; I was working toward my
doctorate degree in systematic theology. On that trip to Italy, I cannot say that I was
heavily influenced in this area at all. But I can tell you that this move, later along
[created] the influence that I had within this past year. I was back in Rome for
sabbatical, and I had some major influence in the whole area of homelessness and
how to deal with certain problems associated with it, [like] addictions, etc.
S: In Europe?
B: In Italy. This was more recently. I can talk about the transition that I made in my
thinking on the question of homelessness shortly.
S: So in Florida, have you ever drawn any conclusions about the climate and the tourist
economy affecting the homelessness here?
B: I can tell you two factors. My first assignment was on a beach area, which attracted
a fair number of transient homeless. I have been pastor in Gainesville and in St.
Augustine, and both of those parishes are located near the two major interstate
highways: 1-75 and 1-95. Those are two big factors in how I got involved in this kind
of work. A lot of transient people were passing down 1-75, and the parish of which
I was pastor of in Gainesville was St. Augustine Catholic Church. I am now pastor
of another St. Augustine church. We seem to have a sort of spiritual relationship
between myself and St. Augustine. But that parish was located near 1-75 and on the
main thoroughfare in from 1-75, which was University Avenue (State Road 26). A
lot of people coming down 1-75 would come down University Avenue. Our parish
was one of the churches on that strip that was frequented by transient people.
Here, in St. Augustine, we are close to State Road 16 that goes out to 1-95. So we
constantly have a lot of people that are moving [through] from the North.
S: Would you say there is a high proportion of people from outside of Florida that
B: We would be affected by the transient people because of our location near the two
major interstate highways. Those are the factors that influenced my being involved
with the homeless situation and, in some ways, the transient homeless. But that is
not the only group that we work with.
S: So you have a population that is transient and a population that is more or less
native to Florida?
S: Are they temporary homeless, or for the large part are they chronically homeless?
Can you break it down?
B: [There are] only [three] categories [of homelessness] that I can tell you about that
we have come up with in my work through the years with them.
One is the permanent homeless person, that with the best of efforts you probably will
not change. Those are people who are in need of significant mental health help,
some of whom have suffered irreparable brain damage from the use of drugs. The
best experts can probably have little influence in radically turning them around from
the mental and physical deprivations that they experience.
Then there are the emergency homeless: people who have lost their homes because
of fire or a sudden tragedy--a hurricane or otherwise. That group you can help
immediately. There are efforts that are collective and otherwise helped by such
programs as St. Francis House in Gainesville and St. Augustine. Those people are
bridged within a short time.
Then there are the transitional homeless. This is the target group that has especially
interested me in more recent years. Within that category are the trainable homeless.
That is a judgement call based on a series of interviews and experiences with people
who have worked with homeless people, [and can] say, "This person can be lifted out
of that situation." That particular group is the one to which in special ways I have
been targeting my efforts in the last year.
But anyway, those are the three categories, if categories would ever be used. There
are certainly people who flow from one to the other.
S: Permanent, emergency, transitional.
B: Transitional is in the middle of the two, and within the transitional are the trainable
S: That helps. You must follow each case before you get to know them.
How did the problems in Gainesville first come to your attention back when you
were at the Catholic Student Center?
B: People would come to the door of the student center for emergency help simply
because we were a church. My immediate response was to start a process of handing
out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, which we stocked heavily in our refrigerator.
My reason for doing that, [came from] a priest friend of mine in Jacksonville [who
worked] at the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church [and] lived in the middle of
the ghetto area. That was the response that I had seen done effectively--simply
giving a person a sandwich in response to an immediate need.
At the Catholic Student Center, we were having high numbers of people coming to
us for help. Sometimes before they even opened their mouth, we had a sandwich
slapped in their hand. [laughter] They may have been coming for information about
getting married, but they had a sandwich in their hand if they looked like they may
have been coming off the street. Sometimes it was a little embarrassing, [but] we
were just not prepared for helping people out. Down that line, they would come at
any hour; it could be nighttime. My primary apostolate was not to the street people,
but to the students and faculty members at Florida, for which the Catholic Student
Center and the St. Augustine Church was targeted. But the reality was that people
were coming in, and we had to address that.
There was a good response on the part of people in the parish to that. But there was
also a negative response; people felt that by handing out food to the people came in,
we were attracting more. There came a point where parishioners were about to
write to the bishop about this apostolate being undesirable, especially with a lot of
young ladies coming into the center.
At that time one of my parishioners, Carmen Caudron, approached me about trying
to take the transients away from the student center to another location so that they
would not be seen as a threat to our students. This was around early 1979 or
somewhere in there.
S: Can I assume then that you were not serving only the needs of students?
B: That is correct.
S: Can you break that down for me? Were there a lot of students who could be in the
category of hungry or homeless?
B: Actually, I think the Hare Krishnas were already operating their food service on the
campus of the University of Florida at this time. I am almost certain that they were,
and they were predominantly serving students. Let us say that initially our response
was not so much to the student population, but as we got going (and I will give you
a little background on how that happened) we actually called the soup kitchen St.
Francis Hall to give a little credibility to the fact that we were also helping students.
It was another kind of hall; it was hall for food. There were students who went
there, as a matter of fact.
I will backtrack just a little bit. In this philosophical outlook toward helping people
in this way, we did have some knowledge of the theory behind it through the writings
of two women: Catherine Doherty, a founder of the Friendship Houses in New
York, and a woman by the name of Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker
Movement. They were somewhat contemporaries, working originally in New York
City. I have actually given talks on the Catholic social philosophy. They were both
truly holy women [who were] radically dedicated to helping the poor. They had
already placed a vast network of soup kitchens and shelters throughout the country
that go back to the time of the Depression.
So in the course of all of this I visited the Catholic Worker Movement with a student
from the University of Florida, Arnie Bellini. On one occasion we took the train up
to New York and visited both Mary House and Joseph House, which were two
houses that Dorothy Day founded in Harlem; one [was] for men, and one [was] for
women. She saw the extent of real deprivation firsthand, which is much greater than
anything in Gainesville or St. Augustine. It was truly an impressive thing for us. Our
original purpose was not simply to visit Dorothy, but to go to an interfaith prayer
meeting at St. Patrick's Cathedral.
[While Dorothy] was one influence, the other was Catherine Doherty. Both women
have since died. Dorothy died shortly after our trip up there; she died around 1980.
Catherine Doherty died in the mid 1980s. She had written to one of our people to
encourage us along in our work in Gainesville. So those were some of the influences
behind what happened.
S: Can I say that the shelters in which you have worked were inspired by the influence
of the principles put forth in the Catholic Worker Movement?
B: [It was] in the Catholic Worker Movement founded by Dorothy Day. She was
influenced by a man by the name of Peter Maurin, a Frenchman who was really the
philosopher behind the Catholic Worker Movement in many ways. Dorothy was
more the exponent; she was a great writer, but in some ways Peter Maurin was the
philosophical underpinnings. You can read either person for a little more
background in that.
S: I would like to have the titles of their works so that I can do that.
B: The Long Loneliness is one of Dorothy Day's works, and I think it is her
autobiography. The other is Easy Essays by Peter Maurin. You get an idea of the
philosophy of Catholic social work in these two people. And then there are scads of
works. She puts out a newspaper called The Catholic Worker which, to this day, only
costs a penny. It was an attempt to show the practical-lived gospel of Christ for
people who are interested and really want an extreme way of working for the poor.
Catherine Doherty has written about eight books. The most important one is The
Gospel Without Compromise. Another one is called Poustinia. I have other books
in my library, but those are two of her most famous books. They are good spiritual
reading. So underlying what happened to us and how we got this going was a whole
What is interesting is [that] when we started it, there were other people [like] Sally
Briggs from the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church who were heavily into the Catholic
worker framework. Sally and Peter Briggs have both since died. But she was the
link who got us working with the Episcopal church downtown that burned (I think
it is Holy Trinity). Their pastor, Earl Page, linked [up] with us. And [so did] the
pastor of the Presbyterian church on 4th or 2nd Avenue near Main Street; they
linked up with us too. And various other churches [joined us as well]. The key
person, General Ramsey, was also a member of the Episcopal church; I think it was
St. Michael's. He was an attorney that helped us to get our incorporation, at least
when we got down the line of the St. Francis house (the shelter).
S: His name was General Ramsey?
B: He was a general, and I cannot think of his first name. Carmen Caudron can tell
you more, if you ever get in touch with her.
S: Where is she now?
B: She is still in Gainesville. I can give you her husband's name, and possibly find her
phone number. At a certain point I can remember a few women--Carmen, Natalie
Cornell, Sally Briggs and I met for lunch at the University Golf Course Restaurant,
of all places, to pull these ideas together. At a certain point, Carmen felt that we
needed to pull our sandwich effort out of the student center and really get a soup
Carmen was a Puerto Rican woman whose mother was very concerned about the
poor; her mother used to feed people out of the back door. [Carmen] had that
memory of her mother and she felt that if it was something that she did, then we
could do [it] too. But none of us had done anything like that, other than hand out
sandwiches. We did not know what the best time to do this was. We knew that the
Salvation Army was serving meals in the evening; if we started a soup kitchen, would
anybody come? We just moved ahead with the idea and felt that it was a good one.
We had a place called Hurly Hall behind us on property owned by the Catholic
Church, right behind the Catholic Student Center and toward the corner; it is a block
down and back. I cannot tell you the street it is on; it is probably 12th Street. That
had been a convent at one time, [and] the garage area of that convent had been
made into a chapel. There was no door on the front; it was just accessible by a
porch and a door from the porch down into the old garage (now chapel). But the
nuns were no longer there, and it was in disuse.
The idea was to convert that into a soup kitchen, so that is what we did. We had a
door put in the front [and] the women came in; they redid it into a nice little kitchen.
Carmen took the lead. It was kind of an interesting, exciting time. I will pull out
some pictures I have of the blessing of that.
S: When you make the transition from philosophy to paper, to what extent do you have
to distill a statement of purpose to put things into practice? How do you go about
it? For example, did you decide to make it a religious outreach as well as a social
B: I do not have the first incorporation papers in front of me, but we need to get those
out because they would define it. But I think I have the new ones in St. Augustine
that probably summarize some of that. I am sure that it reflects a Christian,
ecumenical outlook toward helping the poor.
a Christian, ecumenical outlook toward helping the poor. We took the name Francis
because St. Francis embodied that spirit. We felt that Francis was the person who
was so general and loved by all people enough that nobody would be threatened by
that. So we took his name, and that kind of embodied what we were about. St.
Francis of Assisi [was] the thirteenth century mystic who worked for the poor and
founded the whole Franciscan movement of the thirteenth century. That galvanized
enough; we used the name Francis. We kept it pretty much in a Christian framework
but did not exclude people who were non-Christian or non-believers. The difficulty
was that we did not have the practical savvy. It was walking kind of in faith, in the
sense that it needed to be done, but none of us had done it or knew how to do it;
there was nobody that had any experience. So it was kind of a step in faith--a step
in the dark.
S: Would you feel that now, with the experience you have, that you can conduct
workshops or help people who want to do this in communities now? Is there such
a thing going on?
B: When we started the one here in town, I can tell you from what I have learned that
we made a lot of mistakes in Gainesville. But we were able to put this one together
rapidly because we learned so much from that one, and people trusted me to suggest
to them how to do it. That is why I was able to help them save a lot of trouble in
S: Do you want to talk about any of those mistakes to help people avoid them?
B: OK. Let me just say what happened. First of all, I think it evolved the way it
probably should have, thanks to the enthusiasm of the women. Some were Hispanic
women; none of [whom] had done anything like this before. It was kind of
frightening for them to deal with people that were transient. I will get around to
answering your question about mistakes we made in a second.
The first thing was, would anybody come? We did not know that. So we called
agencies to let them know that this was happening. God was kind to us; the first day
that we opened there was a family that came over. There were four or five people
in the family, and that was the group we served. We decided randomly [to make]
12:00 to 1:30 the hours we would serve. We used the Catholic Student Center
kitchen to cook the food and carted it down the street. The first day, miraculously,
this family came. It went from four people or so, to six the next day, and then fifteen
or twenty. Eventually, I think it kind of tapered off [to] generally around seventy
people. That became a mixed group of students as well as transients and local
S: We are still looking through the files that you have here for the exact date, but can
you give me an estimated date [of its opening]?
B: I am going to say the spring of 1979. The shelter was going to emerge sometime in
1980. We called the soup kitchen St. Francis Hall, and the name 'Hall' came from
Jarvis Caudron, Carmen's husband. [He] suggested that it reflect that we are near
a campus, and that it is like another hall on campus at the University of Florida that
helps needy people, some of whom are students. And so I bought that.
What mistakes did we make? Well, we located it in a neighborhood, for example,
that was predominantly residential. We knew that we were doing that. We were a
church group and we [felt that we] had the right to help needy people; we were
already doing it. We felt the city did not really have any legal reasons to prevent us,
as a church, from helping the needy. So we felt church property was the place to do
it. But it was in a neighborhood that was immediately going to generate some
opposition, and it did very shortly. People, especially one couple in the
neighborhood, became strong opponents. They tried everything they could do to stop
the program from happening. I would say that they had rights, too, in terms of
protecting the property values and [the] concerns that they had there. There were
people who took liberties in their backyards that they should not have, and things
like that, because of the location.
Anyway, let me talk a little bit about what happened there. There was a nice spirit;
it was [evident at] the blessing of the building, with Earl Page and I present. There
was just a nice spirit about us doing something we felt was important. It did continue
to thrive and grow, and volunteers from the various churches came in and helped.
It seemed to us a really positive contribution. My bishop at the time, Bishop Tanner,
supported what we were doing. Later, Bishop Snyder came after him around 1979
and continued the support.
The women actually talked about things happening as they will. They [would] keep
ladling out the soup, and the soup level did not go down. "What is happening?" they
said. A story like that came out sometimes.
I think the beautiful thing is that you would see these women who had not been
involved in any social ministry of any kind, [and they] were the ones that were
running this [program]. They were people who would have fears about being around
a transient-type person, [and yet they] were [now] serving them. That was a minor
miracle in itself, I think, that those kind of people were right up front. That is the
beauty of this program: it was not nuns or monks or brothers or Franciscan Friars.
It was middle to upper class lay people that were involved directly from the start.
S: The people on both sides benefit.
B: That is right. As I said, mistakes were made. It was probably the location, but it was
kind of an inevitable thing. As we got going, the other thing that was going on at the
student center was that there were people that came in at night that needed a place
to crash, and we had none.
There was a place called the Pleasant House [that was] run
by the Corner Drug Store; [it was] funded by the federal government. I believe the
Corer Drug Store is still going in Gainesville (it is a drug referral agency). But they
also ran this Pleasant House program that was an overnight shelter. In addition to
the Salvation Army, then, Pleasant House was available. We would refer people to
both places. [However] if one got filled, or both did, where would they go?
It happened that at a certain point somewhere in 1979 or 1980 that Pleasant House
closed because they did not get their funding. By that time I knew what we could
do; using volunteer help to keep costs down, [we could] run a program. The next
thing was to look into getting a program to handle the emergency shelter needs over
and above what was needed at the Salvation Army.
So I went to the people of Pleasant House [and] talked to them. I said, "If we could
get a cadre of people together to volunteer, would you consider giving us what you
have in the way of beds? We would pick up the location and rent as you did before.
We would have everything that you had before." [We asked them to] bring one of
their people over and help us start another board called the St. Francis House board.
They agreed and taught us the screening methods they used and their general
I had the help of a couple who came to town--Walt and Miriam Zukoski. They were
new people in town. One had a degree in psychology, one in sociology. They just
happened to come in time to help me. They basically wrote out the St. Francis
House guidelines for that program in 1980.
Then the St. Francis House became a separate corporation working on the street that
runs along the side of Alachua General Hospital, in that new building that faces
University Avenue. It must be on 3rd or 4th Street. You just go down University
[Avenue] towards Main [Street], turn right, and it is on that block. All of those
houses were bought by Alachua General and torn down, but it was a house in there.
I can remember thinking about this, and then I went to one of my parishioners to
talk to her about the possibility of running it. At the time she declined, so I felt that
tug to do something like this. It was kind of an inner direction inside of me, but the
first person I asked about pulling together for us said "no." Eventually, we got
different people in there to try to pull it together.
The first year was the really rough road. The soup kitchen went pretty well, but the
shelter had a bumpy start. We had maybe two or three different people helping to
coordinate the overnight shelter. Eventually, I brought in three men who were in the
process of starting a religious community in the Franciscan direction. That did not
really pan out, because they kind of took it over; they got into squabbles with the lay
people. They were working in other areas of my parish, and at a certain point they
just up and left.
S: As you began, it was all privately funded?
B: It was all by donations; that is right. We had to scrounge for money. One of the
people, Jean Chalmers, who later became a city commissioner, got on our bandwagon
and supported us. She was elected city commissioner in 1979. She was involved in
another area that had to do with some area of social work. She made her name
there and then went on to become a city commissioner. She was critical in helping
us get off the ground.
Another fellow became the manager of the place. That was the transition time
before Bob Tancig. Charles Dell eventually emerged as a long-time resident of
Gainesville. He agreed to pull the program together. We decided to close the place
down and clean it all up, fix it up, and then start over again.
S: You were closing down that which had grown out of Pleasant House?
B: Right. At that point, Charles took the helm and from then on it was smooth
At a certain point my bishop assigned me to teach at a seminary in Boynton Beach.
Father Roland Julian took over the whole process as the director of St. Francis
House and coordinator of both programs. So I left there in 1981. Both programs
were gelling at that point.
S: Both St. Francis Hall (the soup kitchen) and St. Francis House?
B: Yes. My idea had been that the two really needed to be put together into one place.
At the time, Carmen had reservations; she did not see herself coordinating both
When the friars came, they were not officially Franciscan Friars, and it was not a
good move on my part [to bring them in]. They were [still] learning, and were to be
under the direction of our bishop until they [reached] a certain level [that was]
considered acceptable to become a religious community. I was kind of a liaison
between the community and my bishop. As I had said, mistakes were made, and one
of my mistakes was bringing them in without knowing too much about them. Their
ability to work well with other people was not especially great. In the process of
their being there, Carmen resigned as director of the St. Francis Hall; that was a real
loss and a painful thing for all of us. However, the program was well enough off of
the ground and effective enough so that it continued to grow.
After I went to teach in the seminary, that concern about uniting the programs
stayed. Under Father Julian, they eventually became one organization. They were
able to get funding from the Koch Foundation in Gainesville to be able to purchase
a house. I think they got additional grant money, and they bought the house that is
presently there on 4th Avenue.
S: I was going to ask you if you had reached some point at which the private funding
was not enough. Were you forced to investigate state grant and aid programs and
become versed in federal programs?
B: Under Father Julian, we moved along to that level. We had already gotten city
money early on, and that kept up. We wanted the city to understand that this was
a partnership with them; we were not lifting from them the responsibility to the
homeless. Under Father Julian, with Father Gillespie's help, that thrust kept up.
And then even H.R.S. money became available. There were [supporters] like the
local woman, Vicki Crafton, who had that area of H.R.S. in Gainesville, [and whose]
family is in my parish here. She shared the sentiments of the whole project, and she
helped to usher in the state and federal funding--supplementary funds--such that it
was able to grow and carry on.
Bob Tancig was hired by the new board under Father Julian and has done an
excellent job of carrying the ball since. He has been there for well over twelve years.
S: I would like to ask you a question you kind of provoked in me about the relationship
of the city/municipality. What is their responsibility?
B: We felt that the church groups were doing what a church should do in helping the
needy. In fact, I remember one time when there was a question about our
involvement and what we were doing, [and] the local city commissioner, Courtland
Collier [provided support]. I was at a wedding party, and he was there, and he said,
"Father, you are only doing what we would expect the church to do." He was telling
me: "Don't feel guilty if you run into some problems. We would expect the church
to be doing this kind of work." It makes eminent sense; we do not have to apologize
for this. But at the same time, we felt that the city should bear the responsibility,
too; it was not only a church concern. That is why that funding was always appealed
for from the city. That shared responsibility was always held out as a concern of
S: Do you think that varies from one administration to another?
B: I can tell you that when our project started here in St. Augustine, we decided to carry
on in a heavier, more direct Christian mode; we were not looking for city or state
funding. We wanted to have the freedom that came from being a church-related
organization. So we decided not to go after city or state funds and only go after
private, individual contributions. And that is a factor; you cannot get state, federal
or city funds if you have evident religious symbols, if you do any kind of evangelizing
or sharing the gospel message, or anything like that.
We decided to begin a program here in St. Augustine with the help of a woman by
the name of Joan Lohr. That was in 1984. This was after I finished my teaching
position. I ended up being brought here to St. Augustine, and I became pastor here
in the fall of 1984. When I arrived here in June, the pastor at the time had a severe
heart problem. I was coming to assist him and was later on appointed pastor. In
that time before I became pastor I saw the need here in St. Augustine for a similar
type of project, being [that] it is close to 1-95. Being in the center of the city, our
cathedral parish here was frequented for assistance by many homeless people and
S: The reason I ask about the city's responsibility is that it is by no means decided from
one city to another, as evidenced by something I have heard about within the last two
years. There has been a lawsuit between the American Civil Liberties Union and the
city of Miami. I do not know if you are familiar with it. The police of Miami have
been accused of making a sweep of homeless arrests for vagrancy and associated
charges. It usually coincides with a highly visible event such as the Super Bowl. The
ACLU has brought a suit against Miami, and one decision has been passed that
Miami is indeed responsible for providing some accommodations. It is on appeal
B: That is the thing, too; I feel that all citizens have some responsibility to the people
in their back yard--anybody that has a rightful residence there. What is a rightful
residence? Is it only property ownership?
S: These questions are both legal and philosophical.
B: Does the fact that you own property make you a resident? From our framework, if
a person is not providing harm to the community, and, given the physical and mental
faculties they have, is trying to establish themselves in a proper way, we simply
cannot ignore them.
I helped edit a book entitled Welcome the Stranger that touches on the religious
dimensions of this. There is a chapter on immigration and our whole response to
that. Well, homelessness is a form of immigration. We look at Jesus himself as
being an immigrant. At one point Jesus, Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt because
Herod was killing the infants. So there are legitimate reasons for people to be in
transiency. [There are] problems that they cannot be responsible for that lead them
to homelessness. Those with legitimate needs need to be attended to. I am going
to give a little philosophical reaction to those that we should not be coddling and
catering to in a little bit; there is a group that I have learned something about in
recent years. But anyway, the city does have a responsibility to those who are
S: I do not know if the responsibility is written in words into a city's charter; I doubt it.
If this is not written in the city's charter, should it be? And how can it be done?
B: I think it should be done. As I mentioned before, I would use the word [helplessly]:
those who are helplessly homeless need to be assisted. Within the framework of
those who are legitimate immigrants, we need to discuss what a legitimate immigrant
to our country is, or [what] a person who is alien with the rights to be here [is]. That
is a whole other area. But yes, there is a legitimate group of people that need to be
S: Have you ever had reason to be associated with the ACLU lawyers? Has anything
ever come up?
B: At this point, we have not. We have carried our own ball for any problems that we
have run into. In St. Augustine right now, our project here is well off the ground.
There are people here that are reacting, as in Gainesville, to the question: "Does
having a homeless shelter or soup kitchen draw people to your community?" That
is often the charge that is leveled against programs like this. We have answered
them by saying [that] many of the people that are homeless are native people; many
of those who come into the soup kitchen are native people. We have careful
provisions for attending to those who are transient homeless. We are not
encouraging transiency on the part of the people that we serve. In fact, we are trying
to eliminate it.
One of the major objectives of the St. Francis House in Gainesville and St. Augustine
is to help people get on their feet. The three day limit policy or the extended policy
for people in the process of getting work (or [who are] working) is an implicit
endorsement of the fact that these programs are oriented toward helping people get
on their feet--they are not aimed at helping people stay on the street. It discourages
people from staying on the street, for the most part.
S: I understand that after three days they must reapply to be able to stay at St. Francis
B: The policies in Gainesville and St. Augustine are the same and pretty stringently
upheld, precisely for that purpose. Anybody can eat there as long as they are not
causing problems, [but] not everybody can stay overnight. They let people who are
moving through [stay for a short time], [but] those who are planning to stay longer
than three days are not encouraged to do that. The idea is to get them on their feet.
Now let me just [reiterate] that the St. Augustine program is pretty much the same
as the one in Gainesville. We learned from our mistakes in Gainesville, and we were
able to get this one off of the ground here. It started on October 16, 1984--World
Hunger Day. We began serving at St. Paul's A.M.E. Church. This soup kitchen
effort was the result of the Episcopal priest here in town, John Bywater, Fred
Richardson, Cecil Albright of the Presbyterian Church, and I getting together. Again,
it was kind of the Catholics, the Presbyterians and the Episcopalians with Fred
Richardson, the African-American pastor of St. Paul's A.M.E. He offered his church
on Martin Luther King Avenue, across the street from our St. Benedict's Catholic
Church. That was where it started; we used the hall from that church. A nice group
of people formed around that ecumenically.
Eventually, we were able to find a building on Washington Street which seemed like
a burned out, heavily drug-ridden area. There were drugs being sold on both sides
of the building--at a bar down the street and in an apartment building on the upstairs
right next to us. A short time before, somebody had been shot at the bar. [He]
crawled down the street and died in front of that building.
People were saying, "Why this building?" But we were able to acquire it in
December, 1984, with a downpayment of $4,000 toward the purchase price of
$19,800. Money came from donations from people from the Cathedral Basilica, the
Memorial Presbyterian Church, and some [private] donors.
That beat-up building was gradually restored. It was about 100 years old, and it had
been a rooming house, a restaurant and a speak-easy; a little bit of everything went
on in that building. [laughter] We tore out the back part of it and eventually built
on a kitchen. We moved the back out further and put in a storage area for a walk-in
cooler and freezer. We fixed up the upstairs and made a shelter out of that. We
originally [had] people sleeping on the floor. The shelter was fixed upstairs to
accommodate sixteen men. Eventually, we added on an addition to that for women.
Later on, they went further out the back with additional storage space for food. It
was quite an enterprise.
S: So that is still on Washington Street?
B: It is still on Washington Street. That is where we are meeting tonight for the feast
of St. Joseph. The St. Joseph table celebration, an Italian custom, helps us identify
with the needy of the world on the feast of St. Joseph. I helped galvanize that.
But as I say, we learned from our mistakes over in Gainesville. This thing was put
together within about a year. Joan Lohr, a woman from the Episcopal Church, was
secretary in the library at Flagler College. She spearheaded this with us. Her
husband worked for me in the maintenance area part time. Through him, I learned
about her interest. Eventually, it just all fell together. We formed a non-profit
corporation and called [it] the St. Augustine Society, Inc. The Episcopal minister
preferred St. Augustine's name, but Joan and I both felt that St. Francis should be
recognized. So we kind of compromised, and we named the house St. Francis House.
Hence you see St. Augustine Society, Incorporated, and St. Francis House. It
continued to thrive. If you are free tonight, you are welcome to join us for our little
six o'clock dinner.
I was seeing that, in many ways, we were helping people with material needs. But
unless time is spent with people who are homeless, we do not change them. The
transitionally homeless need special help. We found that many of them were
addicted to alcohol or drugs. Some were in prostitution. There was a need for
helping to give them motivational help. So I had in mind something along the lines
of a farm.
[We had] the help of the St. Vincent de Paul Society in St. Augustine, a Catholic
charitable arm of our cathedral parish. They have an outlet store that they run, and
with funds from that and other places they help the needy.
I was able to purchase some land west of St. Augustine--forty acres--three years ago.
After about a year and a half we got a program together with the help of a student
from the University of Florida, Johnny Zukovich, who got his degree in the religion
department. He was with the Catholic Volunteers of Florida, [and] he became the
first director of this effort. We brought in three people, and they were kind of the
start. We did not have a whole lot going on in the farm area; they were going into
to town to work and coming back at night. We discovered, among other things--you
learn from your mistakes--there was not enough focus on the farm, there was not
enough prayer, [and] there was not enough organization.
So I stopped the project when I was in Italy, and I discovered that the Italian
Catholic Church was heavily involved with efforts for people struggling with
addictions. They were successful because they were doing things for them that were
longer-term. In one or two cases, they were heavily motivational in the way of faith.
With the help of a priest of the Vatican, Monsignor Anthony La Femina, a priest
from the Venice Catholic Diocese in Florida, I was put in touch with a community
called the Cenacolo Community [Communita Cenacolo]. [It was] founded by Sister
Elvira Petrozzi in Saluzzo, Italy, near Turin. She now has about twenty communities.
The whole focus that we have was forming farm-based type communities where the
people work in a close relationship with a heavy discipline and strong prayer--almost
three hours a day. [In the Cenacolo Community] the nun carefully screens people
to determine if they have bottomed out and are ready to turn their lives over to the
Lord through the community's direction. She has one of the highest success rates for
heroin addicts in Italy.
I eventually brought two of their community over here after I sent Johnny and
another young man--David Marzak--to live in their community. [David was] getting
his doctorate in community college education at the University of Florida; he is
finishing up. Johnny is planning to get married, so he has moved on. Dave is just
about to move here full-time to direct this project. What I have found is this:
much--if not most--of the work for the homeless that I have had up to now is a Band-
aid approach. The great discovery that I made is that, because of the addictions of
many of the homeless that are out there, it is not enough to provide food and shelter.
In fact, in some situations, you are doing more harm than good because they are able
to maintain a subculture of existence on the streets and continuously live without
changing. They are dying and I am having funerals, [because] they are not getting
the direction that they need. Now, I do not have the answer to that yet. I see the
need for it, and I have a program that is intensive in this area, but I have not yet
gelled with my homeless people to be able to get them into this yet.
S: You speak of your training program?
B: Yes, we are just starting now. I just got the Italian men here; they have been here
since January, and we are interviewing. The struggle we are finding right now--and
the last chapter remains to be written--is whether the transient-type homeless people
that have gotten used to this can plug into the kind of discipline and prayer that we
are holding out to them. It is working in Italy.
S: It is?
B: As far as the addict: some of them are homeless, and many have families. I am
trying to translate this [community] into the homeless of America, and the difficulty
is that it is a three-year community, involving heavy prayer.
S: It is a commitment of the individual to be there for three years?
B: I am operating on the framework that they are operating on in Italy. Almost all of
the church-related programs for addicts in Italy are a minimum of three years. The
Italians do not believe that you can turn heavy addictions around in less than three
years. That is one of the philosophical underpinnings of their product program, and
that is what I am working on right now. I think most of the failure of projects comes
from being too short-term and too expensive. So we are looking at a longer term
effort in a closed community with heavy discipline and strong faith motivation
through prayer. That is what we are working at.
In terms of interviewing with the people right now, we are in that process. The way
we interview has worked--at a certain time each week for four weeks. That is usually
a minimum of four times that you interview. So you have to have that homeless,
transient-type person coming back on that time. Part of it is discipline, [and] part of
it is for us to see that they are motivated enough to come and that they are willing
to trust us to help lead them out of this in a disciplined environment. I do not have
the answer to that--whether it is going to work--but I am trying. I see it as a way out
of a situation of homelessness where people that are embedded on the street living
are comfortable with it. They are not comfortable with themselves, but they can
But they are dying. They are getting killed; they are getting shot. Drugs have taken
over in the neighborhood by our soup kitchen, and you see many people dying.
From the time we opened our program [at] the St. Francis House in St. Augustine,
we had three or four deaths in four months. [They were] people that worked with
us, or were in some way associated with the program. We were not able to stop it.
I just had a funeral of a young man recently, before Christmas, who I had worked
with for six years. He was shot and killed because he was mistaken for a burglar.
He was a semi-transient homeless. I had met him a few hours before he was killed.
I knew what he was doing: he was going to get his I.D. card from a motel where his
former girlfriend was staying with her new boyfriend. He was the former boyfriend.
He was drunk when I saw him, [but] he was even drunker when he went out there
because he was drinking for four more hours after I had met him. But the motel
owner did not know why he was out there. As the reports go, and I am going to tell
all he said, he was trying to say that he was trying to get his I.D. card. He was asking
for the girl, and he was jiggling a doorknob of the door where she had been before,
but she and her new boyfriend had moved down the way. I mentioned this as an
example of the kind of thing that is happening. I was helping that young man for six
years by just giving him food. I would sit here and talk with him at night when he
would come in drunk or ready to commit suicide; I had rescued him once from
The problem with our efforts for the homeless right now is that many of them are
in that category. Many come from families that are less-than-desirable home
situations, and it is going to take a lot to turn them around. My feeling is [that] if
I had this farm going a little stronger, this young man might be alive today, and some
of the others as well--if they were willing to take the leap of trusting us to help them
out of their situation. There are a lot of people who are dying on the streets that
can be helped; I am convinced of that. Whether I have the combination here to do
it the way that it will work--I do not know--but I see it happening in Italy. My one
reservation about what we Americans are doing in the way of shelters and soup
kitchens is that in many ways we are helping a lot of people that are helplessly
homeless. That needs to go on. But we are also coddling and retarding the process
of growth of many other trainable, transitional homeless people, who, with a better,
more consistent, and more long-term effort, can be brought off of the streets. That
is what I am seriously involved with now. [But] I am not there yet.
S: What is the status of your farm right now? How many people are you serving?
B: Right now we are just interviewing. The two Italians are learning English. On
Tuesday mornings we interview; we have interviewed about six or seven people or
something around there. One was [extremely] close to coming in, and the discipline,
[along with] the three-year idea, scared him.
S: So it is just getting off the ground?
B: Yes, it is. It is called St. Vincent de Paul Farm, and the Community of Our Lady of
Hope. It is a religious framework; prayer is at the center. So that is where we are
S: I really wish you the best of luck. I need to wrap up with a couple of questions. I
wanted to know if you think volunteers are going to help you a lot in this effort, or
are people in this generation becoming more insulated or isolated from those that
are less fortunate?
B: I think the clergy and the civic leaders [need to] take the lead instead of hiding
behind their collars and their positions. [It would help] if they would speak out
boldly against this. There is a turn-around in society right now towards fear and
protectiveness. In Gainesville, we had the coed murders and other situations there
that are cause for alarm. I think here is where the leadership needs to be bold and
say "Yes, that happens, but if we galvanize our forces we can offset a lot of the
problems." I think volunteers will come forward if the leadership encourages them;
there are a lot of wonderful people out there.
The great discovery I made is that the federal government does not have to do all
of this; it does not have to put up big bucks. I think the most successful operations
would be small groups operating in a religious framework with massive volunteers
from the community. They would probably do a lot more good than pouring a lot
of money down the drain. The main thing about turning homelessness around is
providing motivation for people to get off of the street. It is church groups and civic
groups that provide a real love for people that will do this more than anything else.
I am not saying that I do not believe that government-funded programs will not [help,
because] I do. [But] it is not just pouring money; it is [also] pouring care. You
cannot define that with dollar bills.
S: You cannot legislate charity. Well, what you have said is of such value; I thank you
B: You are welcome to join us at any time. I have a young lady who is about your age,
and she is a director of a charitable foundation. She got involved when I appealed
to her one day. She heard that I was starting a farm, and she was interested in it.
One of the things they fund is efforts for the homeless. She heard the story and
became interested. She comes down to pray with her guys.
S: I have this huge cast of characters that you have mentioned. I do not know what is
more practical and efficient with your time. I need to let you go. I have made a list
in order, and I would like you to check my spelling. Should I just leave this with you,
or have you mail it?
B: I can do that right now.