Outcry over water sprinklers that drench homeless in San Francisco church entrances

A cathedral in San Francisco will dismantle sprinklers installed to keep the homeless off its entrances after a public outcry, US reports said.

There are four entrances at the Saint Mary's Cathedral which are tall sheltered alcoves which attract the homeless to bunk in at night.

Every 30 to 60 minutes in the evening, water pours from a hole in the ceiling drenching anyone in the alcove.

Homeless people who took shelter there got wet, and so did their belongings, reporters from San Francisco's KCBS witnessed. Some brought unbrellas and raincoats to stay dry.

The church has been criticised for being inhumane, and for wasting water. The system also violates building codes, and the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection has ordered the church to remove it in 15 days.

But staff there said that they have been trying to help the homeless, and refer them to Catholic charities for housing, food and clothes.

The San Francisco Archdiocese admitted that the system had been in place for two years, and apologised for the "misunderstood" and "ill-conceived" method of keeping its doorways clear.

The people who regularly slept in the church alcoves were warned, and they were encouraged to move to other areas of the cathedral, the archdiocese said in a statement.

"This sprinkler system in alcoves near our back doorways was installed approximately two years ago, after learning from city resources that this kind of system was being commonly used in the Financial District, as a safety, security and cleanliness measure to avoid the situation where needles, faeces and other dangerous items were regularly being left in these hidden doorways.

"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 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 said.

chuimin@sph.com.sg