By Victoria Cavaliere
(Reuters) - The Archdiocese of San Francisco has issued an apology to homeless people who endured frequent dousings from a sprinkler system while sheltering at night on the grounds of its principal church, a spokesman said on Thursday.
St. Mary's Cathedral had placed the sprinklers in four exterior alcoves to deter people from sleeping there and to keep the area clean but had no idea some individuals were enduring the showers, said spokesman Larry Kamer.
"The church felt terrible when it learned people were getting drenched," he said. "The irony is that St. Mary's is the hub of homeless services for the church."
St. Mary's former rector decided to place the sprinklers in the alcoves two years ago after the doorways and a path that adjoins a neighboring school became littered with crack pipes, hypodermic needles, condoms and human waste, Kamer said.
"There was a persistent problem in those four alcoves and folks who were sleeping there were told they were going to go in," Kamer said. "It worked for the better part of a couple years," he said.
Recently, some people had again started sheltering in the alcoves at night, some using umbrellas to endure showers programmed for about one minute every 30 minutes to an hour.
The sprinklers were torn out on Wednesday after local radio broadcaster KCBS interviewed some of the homeless people who said their blankets and belongings were soaked multiple times each night.
"We’re going to be wet there all night, so hypothermia, cold, all that other stuff could set in. Keeping the church clean, but it could make people sick,” one man told the broadcaster.
The archdiocese issued a statement apologizing to those who got wet.
"We are sorry that our intentions have been misunderstood and recognize that the method used was ill-conceived," it said. "The purpose was to make the Cathedral grounds as well as the homeless people who happen to be on those grounds safer."
Kamer said officials at St. Mary's have not yet decided how to resume efforts to keep people from sheltering in the archways, but they were exploring other options.
(Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere in Seattle; Editing by Eric Beech)