San Francisco Cathedral Reportedly Drenching Homeless People with Water to Drive Them Away

According to a KCBS news report, the Francis Effect has not fully arrived in the City by the Bay:

“KCBS has learned that Saint Mary’s Cathedral, the principal church of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, has installed a watering system to keep the homeless from sleeping in the cathedral’s doorways….

There are no signs warning the homeless about what happens in these doorways, at various times, all through the night. Water pours from a hole in the ceiling, about 30 feet above, drenching the alcove and anyone in it.

The shower ran for about 75 seconds, every 30 to 60 minutes while we were there, starting before sunset, simultaneously in all four doorways. KCBS witnessed it soak homeless people, and their belongings….

The water doesn’t really clean the area. There are syringes, cigarette butts, soggy clothing and cardboard. There is no drainage system. The water pools on the steps and sidewalks….

A cathedral staff member confirmed to KCBS the system was installed, perhaps a year ago, to deter the homeless from sleeping there.”

Given the Church’s commitment to the poor and vulnerable (and the extraordinary work countless Catholics do to help the homeless), the news is stunning and really quite horrifying. Pope Francis has, of course, made headlines by expanding assistance to the homeless in Vatican City. But this extends beyond his efforts; it runs to counter to what the Church stands for at a fundamental level. Let us hope that the outrage generated by this leads to immediate change and a wake-up call in the Archdiocese of San Francisco.


There Shall Be No Poor among You

“The poor will always be with you” (Deut. 15:11). Many of us are familiar with this verse, and many are also quick to quote it. But what about this passage just a few verses earlier: “There shall be no poor among you, if only you will obey the Lord your God by diligently observing this entire commandment that I command you today” (Deut. 15:4-5). This message, which can be found in Proverbs and Psalms as well, seems to be forgotten and ignored. Why? Maybe because it’s easy to forget. Maybe “the poor will always be with you” is easier to remember. Maybe it’s an excuse. Maybe ignorance is bliss.

Five years ago, I found myself on a path I never imagined I would travel. Though I had other plans for my life, I could not ignore the fundamental truth that I am my brother’s keeper, my sister’s keeper. I could not ignore the call to do what is within my power to improve the lives of others. And now, here I am, working and walking with men and women experiencing homelessness. When I began this journey, I thought seeing and being with this vulnerable population was enough. It was not until I saw the work of fabulous organizations like Miriam’s Kitchen and Pathways to Housing that I learned that to be our brother’s keeper and to fully respect each person’s dignity, we not only ought to “feed the hungry and clothe the naked,” we ought to guide them home. Forget “the poor will always be with you,” because ending chronic homelessness is possible. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I’ve seen individuals who are chronically ill—fighting addictions, illness, and terrible environments—yet are able to miraculously find a road to recovery after simply being given an apartment of their own. Miracles can happen when you have a place to call home. Don’t believe me? Check out these numbers: In 2013, Pathways to Housing DC maintained a 90% retention rate even among those not considered “housing ready” by other programs. Further, “Pathways to Housing’s national organization projects it costs $57 a night to provide independent housing, far more affordable than $73 to sleep in a shelter, $164 locked in prison, $519 spent in the emergency room, or $1185 in a psychiatric hospital.”

The numbers don’t lie. Ending chronic homelessness is possible. It won’t be easy. You’ll have to be your brother and sister’s keeper, but it can be done. If only you will obey the entire commandment: “There shall be no poor among you.”

Maureen Burke is an MSW candidate at The Catholic University of America and a Graduate Fellow at the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies.

Around the Web (Part 2)

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

Friends of Merton by Dan Horan: “Thomas Merton continues to exercise an ‘apostolate of friendship,’ bringing people together across many divides. If you haven’t met Merton and his friends yet, I encourage you to do so.”

The Five Lessons of Good Friday by Fr. James Martin, SJ: “If we do something sinful or make immoral decisions that lead to our suffering, we could say that this suffering comes as the result of sin. But most of the time, particularly when it comes to illness and other tragedies, it is assuredly not. If you still harbor any doubts about that, think about this: Jesus, the sinless one, suffered a great deal.”

Mary Magdalene, the Closest Friend of Jesus by Timothy Shriver: “In this man’s moments of his most extreme vulnerability, he was supported, sustained, and accompanied by one consistent friend: a woman, Mary Magdalene.”

Two Homeless People Freeze To Death Just Miles From The White House by Scott Keyes: “Though just an inconvenience for many, cold temperatures can be extremely dangerous for those with no shelter. Indeed, life-threatening hypothermia can set in even at temperatures well above freezing. Dozens of homeless people have died this winter from exposure to the elements, from New York to Chicago to California.”

A gesture of defiance by The Economist: “But in this election ordinary Afghans have sent a message: to their own politicians that stability is more important than sectional interest; to the rest of the world that their country is worthy of continued support; and to the Taliban that its claims to represent Afghanistan are hollow.”

Grisly torture photos from Syria stun U.N. officials by AP: “The U.N. Security Council fell silent Tuesday after ambassadors viewed a series of ghastly photographs of dead Syrian civil war victims, France’s ambassador said. The pictures showed people who were emaciated, with their bones protruding, and some bearing the marks of strangulation and repeated beatings, and eyes having been gouged out.”

The economic culture war over the minimum wage by Paul Waldman: “With the national debate over the minimum wage likely to intensify into 2014, Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin has signed a law passed by the Oklahoma legislature that would forbid any municipality in the state from passing its own law setting the minimum wage higher than $7.25. Not only that, it forbids cities and counties from requiring employers to provide paid sick days or vacation days. Above all, this is a reminder that in many ways, the minimum wage fight is taking on the feel of a culture war. Call it an economic culture war.”

Why atheism doesn’t have the upper hand over religion by Damon Linker: “The fact is that there are specific human experiences that atheism in any form simply cannot explain or account for. One of those experiences is radical sacrifice — and the feelings it elicits in us.”

Republicans and Democrats Both Claim to Be Pro-Family. Here’s How They Can Prove It by Matt Bruenig and Elizabeth Stoker: “We calculate that a child allowance of $300 per month per child would have cut child poverty by 42 percent in 2012. Such a reduction would have lifted 6.8 million children out of poverty, plus another 4.7 million parents.”

Just Friends by John Conley, S.J.: “In discovering other human beings as mature friends, we give the lie to our society’s myth that other people exist only to fulfill our economic or sexual ambition. The path to a truly humane life, one built on virtue, disinterested service and an ungrasping praise of God, is suddenly open.”

Victims of bullying live with the consequences for decades by LA Times: “Victims of bullies suffer the psychological consequences all the way until middle age, with higher levels of depression, anxiety and suicide, new research shows.”

Around the Web

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

Tea Party vs. the Common Good by Michael Sean Winters, National Catholic Reporter: “The individualism that is such a part of the American psyche has developed into something deeply pernicious, a denial of the possibility of the nation coming together, in the form of government action, to promote the common good.”

Could Pope Francis make women cardinals? A pipe dream, and an opening by David Gibson: “Pope Francis has said repeatedly that he wants to see greater roles for women in the Catholic Church, and some argue that he could take a giant step in that direction by appointing women to the College of Cardinals – the select and (so far) all-male club of ‘Princes of the Church’ that casts secret ballots in a conclave to elect a new pope.”

Everything Is Yours by Annie Selak: “Every act of self-gift becomes an act of bringing God into the world. As a result, the faithful are continually giving to the world and building the kingdom of God, renewing the church.”

Sr Eugenia Bonetti wins EU award for anti-trafficking work by Vatican Radio: “Italian Consolata Sister Eugenia Bonetti, a driving force in the fight against trafficking and prostitution, was among the recipients of the European Citizen’s Prize 2013.”

Paradise Lost by Anna Nussbaum Keating: “In a culture that values individualism and personal choice, we have forgotten that we are social animals, interdependent from conception, and that our relationships and communities, to a large extent, determine the quality of our lives.”

Pope’s Address to the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization: “No one is excluded from the hope of life, from the love of God. The Church is sent to reawaken this hope everywhere, especially where it is suffocated by difficult existential conditions, at times inhuman, where hope does not breathe but is suffocated.”

Project Gubbio at St. Boniface: sanctuary of sleep by Heather Knight, San Francisco Chronicle: “The Rev. Tommy King, pastor at St. Boniface for nearly two years, said the church’s congregation doesn’t mind homeless people sleeping in its pews during the day since the church would otherwise sit empty, save for the first few pews reserved for those coming to pray. The family of a recently deceased parishioner even agreed to allow the homeless people to keep sleeping while it held a funeral service at the front of the church – complete with 150 mourners and a full choir.”

Pope Francis Lays Out 4-Point Plan by Greg Erlandson: “What excites many and disturbs some is simply that the Pope seems to be living this agenda. In word and in deed, he is inviting those who do not know Christ to “let God search and encounter” them. And to those who call themselves Catholic, he is challenging us that if we claim to be disciples, we had better get out there and meet the world.”

Open the Doors by Karen Gargamelli: “Although the number of women religious is dwindling, they remain the lifeblood of our church, and their convents are holy and fertile ground for new communities of faith. My suggestion: Keep the convents. Open the doors to lay people. Welcome migrants and the homeless.”

Assad regime snipers targeting unborn babies by The Telegraph: “Snipers belonging to the Assad regime in Syria are shooting pregnant women and their unborn babies in a disturbing “game” of target practice, a British surgeon has claimed.”

‘Super nun’ in Congo helps victims of Lord’s Resistance Army by CNN: “Sister Angelique Namaika has been recognized for her extraordinary humanitarian work with victims of atrocities committed by members of the Lord’s Resistance Army, the militant group led by African warlord Joseph Kony.”

Don’t Fall for Misdirection: It’s about Homelessness, Inequality, Unemployment and Poverty not the Debt

As I drove home last night, slowly moving down the Van Wyck Highway Service Road, I watched as an older homeless man weaved through traffic begging for help. I pulled out what cash I had accessible but he moved over to the next lane – I did not know how to signal safely for him to come over. Then the red light turned green and suddenly traffic began to race. Car after car trying to make the light and get home – and I watched in my rear view mirror as this despondent older man froze, turned slightly and stood on the white line as cars whizzed by on either side of him.  I prayed that he would be safe.

Everyone is breathing a sigh of relief – an immovable faction of the House Republicans were not able to completely undo the union and with it the global economy. And yet, on one level they have won. They have successfully made sequestration the new normal, successfully forced the conversation to the lowest level possible – keeping the doors open and the bills paid. How does one undo the devastating effects of sequestration on the poor, vulnerable, and marginalized when keeping government open at all is on the table?

In August, The Atlantic ran an article on the drop in homelessness that had occurred since 2000. Due to effective and financially supported government programs, we began to make great strides in combating homelessness.     While lauding the progress, Stephen Laurie questioned why it is that homelessness was declining and no one was bothering to tell that story:

They are unlikely to have much power in an age of austerity and there seems to be little recognition or reward to be gained for politicians by serving the homeless.

As quietly as homelessness has fallen, so too it will go up quietly – without major intervention.  The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that sequestration cuts from homelessness programs are set to expel 100,000 people from a range of housing and shelter programs this year. That’s nearly one sixth of the current total homeless population. Far from gently raising the homeless rate, it would undo a full decade of progress.

Unless the 2014 budget remedies some of the change coming to housing services in the second half of this year, the homelessness rate will soon rejoin other bleak indicators of economic recovery. The President can make a public plea for increased assistance for remarkably well-functioning homelessness initiatives. Congress can act to save the surprising success story of Bush era and stimulus programs. The general public can advocate for the vulnerable within their community.

But first, we have to notice what we’ve learned to ignore.

I do not see significant evidence that we will learn to notice what we’ve learned to ignore before it is too late. Yet, I’d like to parse out two important points in this analysis that are a bit more complicated – first, the decline in homelessness and second, the fragility of that progress and the persons these numbers represent.

Nationally, homelessness has declined significantly; however, the data is largely pre-sequestration and homelessness varies so greatly by state that the national homelessness data is deceptive.  Some states are seeing sustained reduction; my home state of New York, however, has seen a 10% increase in homelessness.

In addition, family homelessness and the number of children who experience homelessness is on the rise: around 239,000 families nationally experienced homelessness in one night in 2012.

New York City is now at a ten-year record high spike in homelessness. 21,000 children sleep in NYC shelters each night.  According to the Coalition for the Homeless, 

the number of homeless New Yorkers sleeping in emergency shelter each night has passed 50,000 – a 61% increase since Mayor Bloomberg took office in January of 2002.  The number of homeless children is now over 21,000 per night, also an all-time high.

– Child homelessness continues to surge:  In January, an average 11,984 families, up 73% since Mayor Bloomberg took office, and 21,034 children, up 22% from a year ago and 61% from 2002, stayed in shelters each night.

– Length of stay now over one year:  With few affordable housing options, the average length of shelter stay for families with children is up 10% to a record 375 days.  Families without children averaged a whopping 484 days in shelter.

In 2009, those numbers were 38,000 a night and 12,000 children.

If you survey reports on homelessness, the bulk of the funding combating homelessness comes from federally allocated funds. Programs that were initiated as part of the recovery effort are all subject to cuts under sequestration. We cannot allow the framework of the debate to be determined by those who just effectively brought the government to a halt for more than two weeks.  The issue is not abstract; it is not an ideological debate about the size of government. It is an identity crisis – who do we want to be as a nation? As a community? Do we stand for human rights or not?  Will we demand an economic structure that works for all and not just a few?

The homeless man weaving through traffic for enough money to buy dinner does not have political clout, he does not make political donations – but he is a human being with equal dignity. His physical vulnerability and desperation were so great that he was literally standing in the middle of racing cars desperate to be noticed, simply to count as human. Pope Francis repeatedly warns us about the evils of our throwaway culture. Taking a stand must begin with a refusal to throw away our neighbors, and we must begin to see those who it is so easy to ignore, to blame, and to pretend are simply numbers.  Amidst the relief that the government has reopened we must remember the real issues we need to focus on: inequality, unemployment, poverty, and homelessness.  The measure of a society is how it treats the least among us, and on last night’s 11 o’clock news Sen. Ted Cruz went on record refusing to rule out another shutdown in the new year. This certainly provides considerable evidence for Pope Francis’ indictment that the developed world runs from solidarity.  The questions is: will we continue to run or will we make it “our word”?