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Seeing God on the Street


By Gregory Kepferle
CEO, Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County and President, Charities Housing Development Corporation

Do you remember the children’s bedtime prayer that begins, “Now I lay me down to sleep…?”

I am so grateful to have a safe warm place to sleep out of the cold in my own home. Yet at last count 7,394 of our neighbors in Santa Clara County did not have that blessing. This included 294 families with over 1,000 family members without a home. As I reflect on these shocking facts, I also reflect on the passage in Matthew’s Gospel when disciples wanted to follow Jesus, he said, “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” (MT 8:20)

The luminous face of God is revealed in our unhoused neighbors who have no place to lay their heads, except on cardboard in a doorway, on the seat of their car, or in a tent under the freeway or along the creek. How do we respond to God when we see Him on the street? I find one answer in a line from The Wreck of the Deutschland, by Gerard Manly Hopkins, S.J. “For I greet him the days I meet him, and bless when I understand.” The simple act of saying hello, of acknowledging the presence of another human being even one without a home is a first step toward responding to this crisis in our community.

A second step is by volunteering and providing emergency services and rental assistance to prevent homelessness. Many parishes and community groups provide emergency food, rental assistance or supplies. A number of churches continue to provide rotating shelters for men and women or a safe car park.

A third step is by building more permanent affordable housing. Our Charities Housing Development Corporation has built more than 1,100 units of affordable housing and now manages 17 apartment buildings and 11 shared housing residences for seniors. But we know we need much more. It’s estimated that to address the current need for housing for low and moderate income residents, the county would need another 67,500 units (really the equivalent of another town).

A fourth step is advocacy. With Bishop McGrath’s leadership, last year many of us worked hard and voted to get Measure A passed, which will provide $950 million to build nearly 5,000 apartments, many for those who are chronically homeless as well as for families, seniors and veterans. Now we need to advocate with our neighbors to support appropriate sites and zoning to allow these homes to be built.

I invite you to join Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County and other organizations and parishes in helping address the crisis of homelessness and affordable housing in our community. Yes, it is an enormous challenge, but each step we take makes a difference in the lives of those who are unhoused.

What will you do when you see God on the street?

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