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article imageSan Francisco church removes sprinklers soaking homeless

By Nathan Salant     Mar 19, 2015 in World
San Francisco - Outdoor sprinklers installed outside a San Francisco cathedral to discourage homeless people from sleeping there have been removed, church officials said Wednesday.
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco said it took down the sprinkler system at St. Mary's Cathedral on Gough Street in the city's Richmond District on Wednesday in response to a storm of criticism after the existence of the sprinklers was revealed.
"We are sorry that our intentions have been misunderstood and recognize that the method used was ill-conceived," Auxiliary Bishop William Justice, the cathedral rector, told the Associated Press.
"It actually has had the opposite effect from what it was intended to do, and for this we are very sorry," he said.
Justice said the sprinklers, which doused alcoves just outside cathedral doors where homeless people often slept at night, were actually designed to encourage campers to seek safer areas on the church's spacious grounds just west of downtown.
The archdiocese actually offers services to thousands of homeless people every year, Justice said, and wanted to keep people safe from hazardous items — such as hypodermic needles and human feces — that accumulated in cathedral doorways each year,
"Every year, it helps many thousands of people through food, housing, shelter programs for people at risk including homeless mothers and families, and in countless other ways," he said.
The sprinklers turned on in all four doorways for more than a minute every half-hour starting before sunset, dousing campers and their belongings, the AP said.
Archdiocese spokesman Larry Kamer told the AP that the system was dismantled Wednesday afternoon and was installed two years ago after the diocese learned that downtown buildings used a similar system to keep their properties clean and safe at night.
"The problem [at St. Mary's] was particularly dangerous because students and elderly people regularly pass these locations on their way to school and Mass every day," Justice said.
Advocates for the homeless applauded the decision to remove the sprinklers, but said they were not surprised that the church was using water to force people off its property.
"It's so indicative of how dehumanizing we've become about homeless people," Paul Boden of the Western Regional Advocacy Project told the AP.
"Water is a very effective tool to get someone to move, and it's become a tool in addressing homeless in America today -- it's pretty sad," he said.
The local archdiocese also has come under criticism recently for proposing morality clauses to be added to teacher contracts at four Catholic high schools, the AP said.
San Francisco has a homeless population estimated at around 7,000 people, according to official reports.
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