CBS affiliate KCBS reported on Wednesday that St. Mary’s Cathedral was using a mechanism designed to douse shelter seekers who were sleeping in the church’s doorways. The station’s reporters observed the system dumping water without warning from ceiling holes near four doorways every 30 to 60 minutes. The deluges lasted for more than a minute, long enough to drench a person and her belongings. San Francisco has poured billions of dollars into helping homeless residents over the past decade, but despite a booming economy thanks to the area’s tech industry, the city has struggled to make progress. After the story went viral, the Archdiocese confirmed to KCBS that the system had been in place for two years, and announced that they would remove it. A representative also defended the church’s actions.
Before the sprinklers were installed, Larry Kamer, a spokesman for the Archdiocese, told Refinery29, “The church was fighting a losing battle against condoms, needles, crack pipes, human waste accumulating in those spaces.” The alcoves were also on a route used often by students at the nearby Catholic school, which Kamer said presented safety concerns. “The purpose was to make the Cathedral grounds, as well as the homeless people who happen to be on those grounds, safer,” a statement released by the Archdiocese said. “It actually has had the opposite effect from what it was intended to do, and for this we are very sorry.” California is also in the midst of a historic, years-long drought. Earlier this week, Governor Jerry Brown approved new water-conservation rules for both homeowners and businesses. And in the Vatican, Pope Francis is expected to call on the world’s one billion Catholics to take action on climate change later this year.