A few weeks ago I wrote a post about the Cathedral in San Francisco using water spray to keep homeless people from sleeping in the doorways of the Church at night. The archdiocese took a lot of grief over this—in my opinion, well-deserved—and eventually turned them off.
Now I have come across a story (H/T to long time reader FRS!) about a nearby Catholic church, St. Boniface, that takes a very different approach to the homeless. According to the local CBS affiliate,
St. Boniface in the heart of the Tenderloin is a beautiful, century-old Catholic church filled with stunning stained glass. If you show up during the day in the middle of the week, you might find dozens of homeless sleeping in the pews.
Laura Slattery is the Executive Director of the Gubbio Project, which runs the program. She says the 76 pews they open provide a safe place for people who have been wandering the streets all night.
“People feel safe here,” said Slattery. “We open up some of the converted confessionals in the back and we give out toiletries and some socks.”
About 120 people a day stop in at some point between 6 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Friday for some rest, and that number rises every year.
“When it opens up you are anxious to get in there…and get your battery recharged,” said James, who takes advantage of the program. “I just get a couple of hours and then I’m back at what I need to do.”
The pews are often so crowded that people end up sleeping on the floor.
That means you may catch more than one person snoring during morning or noon service.
The Gubbio Project is named for an Italian town where, according to legend, St. Francis negotiated a peace agreement between frightened townsfolk and a hungry wolf. Francis brokered a deal between the two parties in conflict by recognizing that with communication they could find common ground. In the Tenderloin, working poor people live next to desperately poor people and sometimes misunderstandings and conflicts occur. The Gubbio Project is a creative response to this situation—helping housed parishioners and visitors of the church connect with their unhoused neighbors. The Gubbio Project believes that by creating opportunities for these two groups to interact and care for each other’s needs, the Tenderloin neighborhood will be strengthened.
I find this to be a thoughtful response to the situation. It will not solve the problem of homelessness, but it addresses an immediate need, and does so in a way that respects the dignity of everyone involved. Pope Francis has asked that priests “live with the smell of the sheep”, and this parish has embraced this ideal. May God bless them in their work with Christ in his most distressing disguise.