South Bay Churches Turn Sanctuaries Into Shelters For Homeless Women This Winter

Practicing is always harder than preaching.

Even those who preach for a living, like Father Brendan McGuire of San Jose's Holy Spirit Catholic Church, will tell you that.

It is why, then, he is so proud of what his congregation is doing these days, or, more accurately, nights.

After the last sermon of the day is done, Father Brendan's parishioners walk his talk right through the front doors of the church, carrying fifteen cots and placing them among the pews.

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Father Brendan McGuire says he was moved by a conversation he had with a young homeless man in Portland, Oregon. He felt he and his parishioners could do more to help the homeless in their community.

The cots are for the fifteen homeless women who, for this month at least, are calling this house of worship, their home.

"When you see that person not as a stranger but as a brother and sister," Father Brendan said, "somebody who could be your brother or sister, then somehow it doesn't seem that far a stretch to open your house. Because if your brother or sister were in trouble, you'd open your house."

Father Brendan says the motivation to do more for the homeless of his community actually came after a chance meeting with a young, homeless man in Portland, Oregon.

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Holy Spirit and four other South Bay churches will take turns housing 15 homeless women throughout the winter. Because legal limits prevent the churches from housing the women for more than 30 days, the churches will take turns hosting the shelter.

He says they talked for forty minutes. The young man told Father Brendan he was nineteen-years-old and had been on the streets for four or five years. "I was, at the same time, shocked, saddened and deeply moved by the experience."

He returned to Holy Spirit and suggested they take make space in the church available for homeless people to sleep at night. His parishioners ran with the idea. More than 500 of them volunteered to help with the shelter.


"At least for a moment we are going to try and make your life a lot better than it has been," said Mike Ferrero, a Holy Spirit parishioner. "That's our gift."

"I am so grateful and I am blessed," said Bri, one of the fifteen homeless women being allowed to spend nights in the church. Just twenty-two-years-old, Bri said she had been staying, most recently in an abandoned building in downtown San Jose.

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Each of the women is guaranteed a spot to sleep for the rest of the winter as well as meals, clothing, and access to medical care.

There is however a legal limit of thirty days the church can provide temporary shelter to people, so Holy Spirit has formed a coalition with three other South Bay churches to take turns sheltering the women this winter.

Father Brendan would love to see even more come on board.

"It would change us, it would change the Valley. Silicon Valley wouldn't be the same if every house of worship chose to help."

Until then, he said, his church will continue to do what it can, giving a lucky few the chance to sleep under the stars, watched over by angels. 

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