SF Bishop Sorry Sprinklers Installed To Roust Homeless Were ‘Misunderstood’

The rector of Saint Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco apologized for the “misunderstood” sprinkler system that was dousing homeless people as they slept in the doorway alcoves of the cathedral, radio station KCBS reported on Wednesday.

Bishop William Justice, who is also the Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese, spoke about the sprinklers during a Wednesday news conference and noted that two of the four sprinklers had already been disabled. He also extolled the virtues of the Archdiocese and the work it does for the homeless before attempting to quell the outrage over the water system.

“We are sorry that our intentions have been misunderstood and recognize that the method was ill-conceived,” Justice said. “It actually has had an opposite effect from what it was intended to do, and for that we are very sorry and apologize.”

In a formal statement obtained by KCBS, Justice further explained that the intent of the system was to increase safety in the area.

“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,” Justice said. “The purpose was to make the Cathedral grounds as well as the homeless people who happen to be on those grounds safer.”

The system was installed two years ago when the Archdiocese learned systems like the one eventually installed were successful at clearing areas, according to Justice. During the news conference, Justice also noted that the homeless who usually sleep in the alcoves were warned before the system was put into place.

According to Justice, he was aware that the homeless were being drenched but said “at the time I was preoccupied with other jobs” and that he “knew it was just, you know, it was light — it wasn’t like flooding.”

“On taking control and hearing what happened, that’s why they’re being removed now,” Justice added.

A spokesperson for the Archdiocese, Larry Kamer, said at the news conference that the cathedral needed a permit to disable the sprinklers and that it had obtained the permit as soon as it learned that the sprinklers were drenching homeless people.

Kamer said a news report about the sprinklers was a “triggering moment” and that the Archdiocese was currently working to find a better system.

Watch the news conference below, courtesy of KCBS:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ahiza Garcia is a newswriter based in New York City. Before joining TPM, Ahiza interned and freelanced for Nightline, Fox Sports, and ESPN the Magazine. She holds a B.A. in psychology from Columbia University and an M.S. in digital journalism from Syracuse University. She can be reached at ahiza@talkingpointsmemo.com.
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