Toni and Nick Baier have made their home a haven for those experiencing homelessness. And they do it with four little kids in tow!
When I first met my friend Toni Baier, she mentioned the “guest” in her home. I assumed she had a relative staying with her, but after I asked her about it, I found out it was something else entirely. And I was absolutely blown away.
Toni and her husband, Nick Baier, do something really extraordinary. They have opened up their home as a Catholic Worker House, called Sacred Tent, where they offer a place to live and a loving family environment for people experiencing homelessness to get back on their feet. And they do this with four (almost five) little children in tow!
Naturally, I had lots of questions for them. And I had the chance to ask Toni about her ministry with Catholic Worker, how she got started, and what it’s like to house a person fighting homelessness. Here’s what she shared with me.
Please tell me a little about you and your husband and your backgrounds related to your ministry with Sacred Tent.
My husband and I started hosting those that are in between housing about 4 years ago. We have helped 12 people successfully get out of homelessness since then.
My husband works a normal Monday through Friday, 40-hour-a-week job, and I quit nursing to pursue this ministry and stay home with our 4, almost 5, little ones.
Crazy, you might say, but we figured if we are already home, living this family life to the fullest, we might as well add some others that are lacking family life to the bunch!
How would you describe Sacred Tent to someone who has never heard of it before?
Sacred Tent is first and foremost a Catholic Worker House of Hospitality. The Catholic Worker movement was founded by Servant of God, Dorothy Day, in 1933. As a convert, Dorothy Day saw the Catholic Church lacking social justice. She truly desired to treat people as if they were Christ themselves as instructed in the corporal works of mercy (Matthew 15) and emphasized the church’s teaching on Catholic social teaching.
There are roughly 180 Catholic Worker Houses in the world now, sharing the same cornerstones of prayer, simplicity, community, and service. Each house looks different. There are some larger Catholic Worker Houses in big cities that are run by volunteers and employees that host 20 to 50 people experiencing homelessness or who are fleeing from danger, or in need of food, drink, and community.
Our Catholic Worker House is quite smaller. We started as a single family that let another family that was facing homelessness move in. We shared meals, chores, and life together. We have now expanded to two other single families hosting in their spare or “Christ” room.
How did Sacred Tent get started? What inspired you to pursue this ministry?
Living with the poor for about 3 months from our mission trip experience was our first inspiration. Our friends whose lives are these mission trips recommended a few books to us.
After much reading provided by friends with similar values, we felt called to live a radical lifestyle of hospitality. These books are Happy are the Poor by Thomas Dubay, Dorothy Day’s autobiography called The Long Loneliness, and Shane Claiborne’s Irresistible Revolution.
How do you find guests?
Our first guest and his family were a patient of mine in the hospital. Now, emails are regularly sent to Sacred Tent from the larger Catholic Worker community asking for housing. We also have partnerships with Catholic Charities and DuPage Pads.
What services are provided to guests? Is there a limit on how long they can stay with you? What is the end goal of their stay?
We are an interim housing program; we have a great set up to help our guests get back on their feet which includes mandatory goal setting and financial literacy courses as well as a volunteer caseworker.
Our guests and their host family can re-sign their contract every 6 months up to 2 years if the contract and rules have not been broken. We have a strict 3 strikes and you are out policy. They are provided with a safe home, meals, and a community. We also have a community car that can be shared if needed.
Sometimes we extend ourselves outside the walls of our home as well. Our donors helped a single mom and her three kids pay for a hotel, car insurance, brought her meals and they came over regularly for community, laundry and showers.
Our goals for our guests align with their goals for themselves. All desire safe housing, which we believe is a human right. By the time our guests leave they should be mostly independent, have their own apartment, car, and a sustainable job.
A huge part of our ministry is staying in close contact with those who graduate. We continue to have them over for community dinner and we offer them a free food drop off program and a percentage program for rent if they need a little extra help.
How do you ensure safety for your family while hosting guests?
This is the most popular question we receive. And I truly wish my answer could simply be “perfect love casts out all fear” (1 John 4:18). But that does not sit well with grandparents.
These guests are highly recommended to us by other non-profits that help those that are in between housing. The caseworkers from those organizations know that we have small children, that the parents work and even know the layout of our house.
If the caseworker believes that a client will be well suited with us and the client feels safe with us we will have them apply, enjoy a meal with them, call their references and complete a background check.
How do you balance your time working on this ministry with time for your family/kids?
Our ministry is pretty much all in the same as family life. Our guests are encouraged to live as much they can in community with us. Family walks, dinners, games, and chores.
We see this familial embracing as the most healing thing we can offer our guests. More than the material things.
In what ways is Sacred Tent expanding in the future?
We have recently become a non-profit and with that we hope to gain more volunteers and maybe even a paid staff member. Ultimately, the hope is to have more host families. With more families or single persons willing to host, we would be helping more people, but also, we could rely on one another when a family is not capable of hosting.
This model is what makes Sacred Tent stand out from other non-profits such as Catholic Charities or DuPage Pads. Our guests are not just a number, we aren’t blindly donating money to them, we are inviting them to be a part of our family.
I believe in this model; I believe “tents” should be popping up in each diocese. The Church needs to have more houses of hospitality for the elderly, lonely and needy parishioners or community members.
What is the most important thing you would want people to know about Sacred Tent?
Radical hospitality is not for everyone, and it is not for everyone all the time. It is sacrificial and challenging, but also very rewarding.
One of the many great things about the church is that we are all given different talents and we are all called to do different things for God’s Kingdom. Some of us are the hands, the head, the feet, or the heart.
However, we must remember that “Christ has no body now, no hands, no feet on earth, but yours. Yours are the eye through which Christ looks compassion into the world. Yours are the feet with which Christ walks to do good. Yours are the hands with which Christ blesses the world.” – St. Teresa of Avila.
If you are searching for a radical way to help a brother or sister in need and have a spare room, maybe this is what God is calling you to do. Or maybe you are the one who is lonely and your heart is aching for community: Please join ours! Sacred Tent is a place where everyone is welcomed home. For more information visit our website at sacredtent.org