St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco is getting bad press this week over a sprinkler system it installed to keep homeless people from sleeping on church grounds.
People are outraged that a church would treat the poor so callously. But St. Mary’s isn’t alone. Many houses of worship all over the country face the question of how to keep safe, welcoming grounds while being compassionate to homeless neighbors sleeping on porches and in doorways.
Here’s what we tried at Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C.
A couple of months ago, we started a dialogue around how to move people off the porches of the church and assist them in moving on. Over the years, the protected and secluded porches had become sleeping quarters for a dozen or so folks, and it was now out of hand. People were using the grounds as bathroom facilities; others were leaving their belongings in plastic-covered 4-foot high mounds.
The conversation, held in a church committee meeting in January, was contentious.