San Fran Sprinkler Scandal

Homeless, courtesy Flickr user Osvaldo Gago

Homeless, courtesy Flickr user Osvaldo Gago

The Archdiocese of San Francisco got all wet this week when scandal erupted over the use of overhead water spigots at St. Mary’s Cathedral to deter homeless people from sleeping in the doorways of the City’s principal church. A local reporter broke the story Wednesday morning:

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. KCBS witnessed it soak homeless people, and their belongings.

By the afternoon, the story had gone national, and Twitter was atwitter. While the sprinklers were apparently installed a couple of years ago, the story broke just weeks after the Vatican opened shower facilities for the homeless right in St. Peter’s Square. If you ask me, this is the kind of story that should be a scandal to anyone of us, regardless of our religious views. I mean, we might squirt a dog or a cat to get it to shoo, but doing this to people? Well, it’s inhumane.

The archdiocese responded to the news quickly, saying that they will immediately start removing the spigots, and conceding that it was an ill-conceived idea to start with. I’m glad to see that (although disappointed it took a national media response for them to realize it in the first place). But what stopped me in my tracks as I read that press release – right there in the third paragraph – was that they modeled the idea on similar systems used in the Financial District.

Say it ain’t so! Following the lead of the financial sector when it comes to how we treat homeless people? Look, there are lots of good people who work in finance, I get that, but last time I checked the goal of the financial sector was to create profit, not provide humane care for the homeless. See, this is the kind of thing that we the church should be taking the lead on and not following someone else’s, a kind of thing like clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, caring for the sick – you get the idea. In other words, for the people in finance, the homeless may be a problem to be solved. But for us, they’re people to be loved.

The good news is that Catholic Charities has been readily setting the example in the City (as Bay Area locals call Frisco – which in turn is what only a SoCal boy like me would dare to call San Francisco while living in the Bay Area), even while the Sprinkler Scandal leaves us shaking our heads. Across town in the city’s Tenderloin district, the incredible Gubbio Project keeps the doors to St. Boniface Church open all day so that homeless folks can come in and catch a respite from the streets while shelters are closed.

Let’s hope that when the sidewalks are dry, this is a lesson learned, and that we can keep on setting the example and taking the lead.

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Homeless image courtesy Flickr user Osvaldo Gago, found here.

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