On November 17, 2015, more 30 Catholic leaders gathered at the Chancery Offices of the Diocese of San Jose to discuss the realities of the homeless population in Santa Clara County. Challenged by numerous reports about the number of homeless individuals in the County, the cost of homelessness to our community, and the effects of El Niño this winter, Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County and the Diocese of San Jose Office of Social Ministry gathered these leaders with a challenge: what can your parish community do to help the homeless this winter?
Collaborating closely with the City of San Jose housing staff, as well as staff from the County of Santa Clara Office of Supportive Housing, we outlined specifically the role parishes can play, including hosting an emergency shelter site at the parish that can serve no more than 15 homeless individuals for no more than 35 days in a calendar year.
With cold weather and periods of heavy rains predicted this winter, this issue became literally a life or death concern for the homeless community in Santa Clara County. At the same time, our challenge to be an evangelizing Church calls us to put our faith into action through the acts of justice and service.
Our Catholic community has responded.
As of today, six parishes have committed to open up an emergency shelter during this winter season, hosting between five to 15 unsheltered individuals. Parishes like Holy Spirit, Saint Francis of Assisi, and Most Holy Trinity have worked diligently to create an infrastructure to make this a reality, utilizing volunteers to support these shelters and bringing this ministry into the forefront of their social justice efforts. Catholic Charities has worked closely with the County of Santa Clara to create a referral mechanism so that homeless individuals are aware of these Catholic shelter sites. Holy Spirit was the first parish to open up their shelter site, beginning to serve homeless individuals on January 13, 2016.
Two parishes have committed to open their grounds as a safe parking lot for homeless individuals with vehicles to park at night and sleep in their car where they will be free from prosecution from law enforcement.
Multiple other parishes have committed to support these efforts through volunteer support, donating food and supplies, and donating a financial gift.
Given the short time we had to develop these shelter sites, the Catholic community of the Diocese of San Jose should be proud of the work that has been done to respond to this emergency need.
As the County of Santa Clara continues to feel the effects of the cost of housing and homelessness, the Catholic community has shown that we can mobilize ourselves to serve those who are most vulnerable among us.