SF Archdiocese apologizes for using sprinklers to deter homeless 

click to enlarge Catholic officials issued an apology Wednesday for the sprinkler system at St. Mary's Cathedral that was used to try to deter homeless people from sleeping in the church's doorways. - GABRIELLE LURIE/SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Gabrielle Lurie/Special to the S.F. Examiner
  • Catholic officials issued an apology Wednesday for the sprinkler system at St. Mary's Cathedral that was used to try to deter homeless people from sleeping in the church's doorways.
The Archdiocese of San Francisco is removing a sprinkler system from St. Mary’s Cathedral that was used to try to deter homeless people from sleeping in the church’s doorways.

Catholic officials issued an apology Wednesday for the sprinkler system, which was installed about two years ago after the archdiocese said it learned that such a system was being used in the Financial District to keep areas safe and clean.

Homeless advocates, however, were aghast to learn of the sprinkler system at the church.

Barry Stenger, executive director of the St. Anthony Foundation, which is not directly affiliated with the archdiocese, said he was surprised such a tactic would be used because Catholic churches have long been known to support homeless people. “It seems really inconsistent with how Catholics in this city have treated homeless and people who are poor or are struggling,” Stenger said.

The archdiocese conceded that the method was “ill-conceived.”

“For this we are very sorry,” said a statement from the archdiocese.

Church officials said the sprinklers were meant to keep the area safe. Needles, feces and other dangerous items were regularly left in the doorways of the church, endangering students and elderly residents as they attended school and mass each day, the archdiocese said.

“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 statement said. “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 archdiocese emphasized that the Catholic community, particularly St. Mary’s Cathedral, has been a strong supporter of homeless San Franciscans by providing food, housing and shelter programs, among other efforts.

The sprinkler system also might have violated San Francisco water-use laws, the archdiocese acknowledged.

Removal of the system was expected to be complete Wednesday.

About The Author

Laura Dudnick

Bio:
Laura Dudnick, a Bay Area native, covers education and planning for The San Francisco Examiner. She previously worked as a senior local editor for Patch.com, and as the San Mateo County bureau reporter and weekend editor for Bay City News Service.
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