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Any resident of California is aware of the large number of homeless individuals in the state. Even South County has numerous people readily identifiable as lacking a home. 

Often they fill our creeks and sit along our sidewalks. More recently at St. Mary, I have encountered a new population—persons who have crossed our overrun southern border and are taking an evening rest with their backpacks and small suitcases on parish grounds before moving along to parts unknown.

Rev. Michael Hendrickson

Many think of our local homeless population as a function of South County being the “end of the line.” This line of thought maintains that given our neighboring cities in Monterey and San Benito Counties are not easy to walk to or travel to via public transportation, the homeless we see are from cities farther north.

The truth is otherwise: large numbers of our homeless are natives of South County. Here are two of their stories showing the current failure of how we in the state of California treat homelessness.

“D” is a native of Gilroy. At some point drug use destroyed the normal function of his brain. I sometimes use him as an example to the students of St. Mary School on the dangers of drug use. 

Unable to construct full sentences, high on drugs much of the time, D often bellows while striding confidently and rapidly down the Monterey Street and First Street corridors. One person who interacts with him daily describes him as “animalistic,” living as close as possible to being a wild animal while being able to survive. 

His desperate appearance and aggressive panhandling provide him enough money to buy drugs and food, and he knows food will always be available at St. Joseph’s Family Center. He is both mischievous—often disrupting masses, funerals and weddings at St. Mary Church and vandalizing the votive candles and flowers at our prayer grotto—and invincible, knowing that the system is essentially powerless to hold him in custody for a significant length of time.

“N” is a native of Mexico but has lived in Gilroy for many years. Being a car mechanic in the past, one hears rumors of an industrial accident to the head that changed his life forever. 

Besides suffering from frequent seizures—witnessed by hundreds at St. Mary recently one Sunday morning—his sense of sight is decreasing rapidly. Nonetheless he finds his way around the city, occasionally staying with friends until he alienates them. 

Friendly most of the time, once in a while he uses his money for the bottle, which changes his personality. 

Like D, he knows that the system cannot hold him indefinitely, but N is smart enough to use the system, especially St. Louise Regional Hospital, to his benefit.

The repetitive cycles for these two have lasted for many years. Is this truly the best we can do?

Fr. Michael Hendrickson has been the pastor of St. March Parish in Gilroy since 2019 and is a native of Morgan Hill. 

MUGSHOT of Father Michael Hendrickson

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