There were many faithful Catholics shaking their collective heads when this news broke earlier in the week:
The cathedral, at Geary and Gough, is the home church of the Archbishop. There are four tall side doors, with sheltered alcoves, that attract homeless people at night.
“They actually have signs in there that say, ‘No Trespassing,’” said a homeless man named Robert.
But there are no signs warning the homeless about what happens in these doorways, at various times, all through the night. Water pours from a hole in the ceiling, about 30 feet above, drenching the alcove and anyone in it.
The shower ran for about 75 seconds, every 30 to 60 minutes while we were there, starting before sunset, simultaneously in all four doorways.
The Archdiocese of San Francisco is, along with the Catholic St.Vincent de Paul Society, the largest supporter of services for the homeless in San Francisco. Every year, it helps many thousands of people through food, housing, shelter programs for people at risk includinghomeless mothers and families, and in countless other ways.
St. Mary's Cathedral is a huge partof that program, and does more than any other Catholic church. The Cathedral itself serves hundreds of homeless people giving them food and shelter, as an integral part of the San Francisco Interfaith Council's efforts in that regard, for example, opening its doors for shelter and food for fiveweeks over the holidays.
This sprinkler system in alcoves near our back doorways was installed approximately two years ago, after learning from city resources that this kind of system was being commonly used in the Financial District, asa safety, security and cleanliness measure to avoid the situation where needles, feces and other dangerous items were regularly beingleft in these hidden doorways. The problem was particularly dangerous because students and elderly people regularly pass these locations on their way toschool and mass every day.
When the system was installed, after other ideas were tried and failed, the people who were regularly sleeping in those doorways were informed in advance that the sprinklers were being installed. The idea was not to remove those persons, but to encourage them to relocate to other areas of the Cathedral, which are protected and safer. The purpose was to make the Cathedral grounds as well as the homeless people who happen to be on those grounds safer.
We are sorry that our intentions have been misunderstood and recognize that the method used was ill-conceived. It actually has had the opposite effect from what it was intended to do, and for this we are very sorry. We have also now learned that the system in the first place required a permit and may violate San Francisco water-use laws, and the work to remove this system has already started, and will be completed by the end of the day.
There are those claiming that this entire story is but yet another hit-piece against the Archbishop and particularly Catholicism. There's likely some truth to that. Nevertheless, the sprinkler system was a serious mistake impugning the dignity of those most affected.
I'm glad to see this is being handled as it's now being handled.
It was the right thing to do.