Church Says It Will Stop Dumping Water on Homeless People

March 18th 2015

Laura Donovan

Churches tend to be kind to homeless people, but San Francisco's St. Mary's Cathedral doesn't want them overstaying their welcome. CBS San Francisco discovered that for the past two years, the church had a watering system on its four doorways to prevent homeless individuals from sleeping underneath, potentially inviting even more health risks to those with limited access to medical care and an already increased risk of becoming ill. 

In response, the Archdiocese of San Francisco released a statement Wednesday saying that the two-year-old system would be removed as it's apparently illegal, which the church didn't realize when it installed the sprinklers. The Archdiocese said there were many dangerous items left on doorways before the system was created, leading the church to make this bold move in the name of safety. 

"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 statement reads. "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."

San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, who runs the San Francisco Archdiocese, has been known to help the homeless, so when this story hit the news cycle, others came forward to highlight what he's done to give back. He's visited shelters to support and feed the homeless and even went to a gay parish to help homeless there.

"Critics who seek to pin blame for this watering system on the archbishop must also be willing to give him credit for the many things done under the banner of the archdiocese to house and help the homeless," writes Matthew Schmitz of First Things. "He is just as responsible, just as accountable, just as worthy of blame or credit for the one as is he is for the other."

Prior to the release of the Archdiocese's statement, a homeless man named Robert told CBS SF that the surprise showers made it even harder for homeless people to stay warm in famously chilly San Francisco, "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."

According to the 2013 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, San Francisco has more than 7,000 homeless people living in the city. Late last year, San Francisco started a housing initiative to provide shelter for homeless veterans, but that still leaves non-veterans with few places to go. Though San Francisco does not have dreadful snowstorms like New York, Boston, and other East Coast metros, it's known for being very chilly. Because homeless people have a significantly lower life expectancy than those with shelter, the cold weather in SF can be life-threatening. They're three times as likely to die in traffic and two times as likely to contract fatal infections.