By Gregory Kepferle
CEO, Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County and President, Charities Housing Development Corporation
When I drive down city streets, all too often I see people at intersections holding signs declaring some version of “Hungry, homeless, Please help. God bless.” As I inch through freeway commute traffic and happen to glance beneath an overpass, I see tents, tarps, and hanging clothes – signs of yet another homeless encampment, and as I walk through a neighborhood in east San Jose, I see small two bedroom bungalows which house three or four families crammed into one tiny home because no one family can afford the skyrocketing rents. Meanwhile the county jail continues to incarcerate homeless people with mental illness who have completed their sentences, only because there are not enough funds to house them upon release, while they get back on their feet or get treatment. This can be very discouraging, except that I also witness signs of hope as the community comes together to address homelessness and the affordable housing crisis. While 4,500 people are still homeless in the Diocese on any given night, that number has dropped 14% thanks to coordinated efforts on the part of government, nonprofits, and the faith community.
Catholic Charities owns a housing development organization called Charities Housing Development Corporation that continues to build affordable permanent supportive housing with investments from private investors using affordable housing tax credits as well as public funding and land. Catholic Charities provides support services to help residents maintain housing and develop skills thanks to generous private donors, members of the Domus Council. Today we house over 2,300 individuals and families in 17 apartment buildings and provide shared housing for seniors in 11 single-family homes. Our most recent development, Renascence Place in San Jose will provide permanent supportive housing to chronically homeless individuals, enabling them to live in safe, decent, affordable apartments while getting needed services with the help of the Health Trust and Catholic Charities.
For people coming out of jail, Catholic Charities helps with rental assistance and jobs, so they don’t end up on the streets or back in jail. Also through the advocacy and development efforts of Catholic Charities Step Up Silicon Valley anti-poverty lab, the County has initiated a “pay for success” model addressing chronic homelessness and severe mental illness to measure the results and impact of solutions to these crises. This past winter, Catholic Charities helped coordinate an interfaith winter shelter network of congregations spearheaded by the work of Holy Spirit Parish with the help of County and the City of San Jose. Thanks to San Jose City Council, the number of shelter nights and the number of beds allowed per congregation has now expanded. Meanwhile every day members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and other parish outreach groups continue to provide rental assistance to families coming to parishes seeking emergency assistance.
Yet, in spite of all this great work, the need for affordable housing for the homeless, the working poor, and even for families with solid incomes continues to grow. Yes, we need more engaged, generous volunteers and donors; and we need rent relief for working poor and middle-class families; and we need to build more affordable permanent supportive housing; and we need the land, the financing, and the laws and regulations like inclusionary zoning to make this possible; and we need to explore innovative options; and we need parishes and neighborhoods willing and able to support these solutions.
The crisis is enormous and urgent and requires a major investment quickly and for the long term. That is why Charities Housing Development Corporation and Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County support Santa Clara County Measure A, the affordable housing bond on the November ballot, designed to build more affordable housing both for the homeless and for the working poor, seniors, and people with disabilities. If you want to help end homelessness and create more affordable housing, please, vote Yes on Measure A. Lives are depending on it.
For more information on Catholic Charities and Charities Housing go to www.catholiccharitiesscc.org or www.CharitiesHousing.org.
To join the Yes on A campaign please visit