A San Francisco church is under scrutiny after it was discovered it installed a watering system to deter homeless people from sleeping in its doorways.
Saint Mary’s Cathedral, principal church of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, has four tall side doors with sheltered alcoves. The structure makes an ideal resting spot for the homeless, except for one problem.
Every night, water falls from the ceiling and showers the alcove, drenching anyone in it.
“We’re going to be wet there all night, so hypothermia, cold, all that other stuff could set in,” Robert, a homeless man, told KCBS. “Keeping the church clean, but it could make people sick.”
But KCBS did some further investigating and discovered the purpose of the watering system is not to keep the doorways clean.
The reporter spoke with a cathedral staff member who confirmed the watering system was installed a year ago to stop homeless people from sleeping there.
“I was just shocked, one because it’s inhumane to treat people that way,” a local resident told KCBS. “The second thing is that we are in this terrible drought.”
Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homeless, agreed.
“It’s very shocking, and very inhumane,” she said. “There’s not really another way to describe it. Certainly not formed on the basis of Catholic teachings.”
But Chris Lyford, a spokesman for the archdiocese, says cathedral staff has made numerous efforts to help the homeless.
“We refer them, mostly to Catholic Charities, for example for housing,” Lyford said. “To Saint Anthony’s soup kitchen for food, if they want food on that day. Saint Vincent de Paul if they need clothes.”
He says they keep coming back to the alcoves, which have no drainage systems and are littered with cigarette butts, soggy clothing, syringes and cardboard. He added that most of them seem to have substance abuse issues.
“We do the best we can, and supporting the dignity of each person,” Lyford said. “But there is only so much you can do.”
Lyford added that he did not know about the watering system until KBCS showed it to him. He admitted that it wasn’t proving to be an effective deterrent, as some homeless people have started bringing waterproof gear into the alcoves, even an umbrella.
KCBS also reported that the watering system was installed illegally and may violate water use regulations, according to city permit records.
The archdiocese issued the following statement on the matter: "Catholic organizations in San Francisco serve thousands of homeless people every year, providing shelter, food, and critical services. That is the true picture of compassionate Catholic care."
Still, locals feel the church should turn the watering system off.
“I would hope that they would stop doing this, both for environmental reasons and for common decency,” a neighbor of the church told KCBS.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons