San Francisco church doused homeless people with water to deter sheltering

By Updated at 2015-03-20 10:04:15 +0000


Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed – Proverbs 19:17

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me – Matthew 25:35

St Mary’s cathedral, home of the Catholic archbishop of San Francisco, has been scrambling to explain itself after local media revealed that it had installed water sprinklers above its doorways that were dousing homeless people seeking shelter in the alcoves there.

Officials of the archdiocese hastily began the process of dismantling the sprinklers after the local CBS franchise, KCBS Radio, revealed that homeless people and their belongings were routinely being soaked by the automated system.

The anti-homeless technique has been deployed outside commercial properties in several major cities, including San Francisco, but its use by an institution devoted to the tradition of the good Samaritan has proved more contentious.

Within hours of the story appearing, St Mary’s was insisting that the furore was all a “misunderstanding”. The spokesperson for the archdiocese, Larry Kamer, stood on the steps of the cathedral and admitted that the sprinklers had been in place for “several years”, adding that they were used to deter homeless people from sheltering in the alcoves of the church.

“It was obviously never the church’s intention to actually douse homeless people with water,” he said.

KCBS’s reporter witnessed water pouring from the church ceiling above the outside alcoves from a height of about 30ft. It was set on an automated basis to run for about 75 seconds every hour or so through the night, drenching anyone or anything beneath it.

“We’re going to be wet there all night, so hypothermia, cold, all that other stuff could set in. Keeping the church clean, but it could make people sick,” a homeless man called Robert told the radio station.

In a statement, the archdiocese said it was one of the largest supporters of services for the homeless in the city. “We are sorry that our intentions have been misunderstood and recognize that the method used was ill-conceived.”

The statement said the idea had been “not to remove those persons, but to encourage them to relocate to other areas of the cathedral, which are protected and safer”.