What Would Jesus Do?
by William Skink
Since Christians are celebrating Jesus’ resurrection today, I’d like to draw some attention to how un-Christian some Christians can be when it comes to homeless people. Last month a church in San Francisco was media-shamed into removing a sprinkler system installed as a homeless deterrent. This method, awful as it is, is even more abhorrent considering the extreme drought in California:
A San Francisco Catholic church announced it would remove a sprinkler system that was reportedly dousing homeless people as they slept near the building’s sheltered doorways.
The Archdiocese of San Francisco said Wednesday that the sprinklers outside St. Mary’s Cathedral would be turned off following a backlash after a KCBS report about the watering system.
There are several tall doors with sheltered alcoves that attract homeless people at night, KCBS reported. Though there are no signs warning people, the sprinkler system turns on several times during the night, the news station reported.
“Water pours from a hole in the ceiling, about 30 feet above, drenching the alcove and anyone in it,” KCBS reported.
The water runs for about 75 seconds in all four doorways, and KCBS reporters said they watched as the sprinklers soaked homeless people and their belongings.
While it’s nice that this particular method in this particular locale was addressed, a Truthout article captures what I feel is an appropriate amount of bitterness in an op-ed titled Sprinklers Off, Still Homeless:
Reading through all the hype, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit bitter. Yes, I’m bitter at the church for installing such an outrageously heartless sprinkler system. But really what bothers me is that this is just one particularly headline-worthy example of a bigger system that targets poor people in both mundane and shocking ways on a daily basis. And now that this sprinkler system is gone, we can all go back to pretending the other system doesn’t exist.
But in reality, there is a war against homeless people going on right now that extends from the church steps in San Francisco across the Atlantic to London storefronts, where the local government has installed concrete spikes to prevent people from sleeping in front of businesses. It’s happening in Shandong, China, which has installed “pay-per-minute” benches that surprise you with protruding spikes if you overstay your welcome. It’s happening to Los Angeles, where city politicians are fighting to prevent people from feeding the homeless.
In my own town of Berkeley, just across the bay from San Francisco, the city council, rallied by our Downtown Business Association, is working to pass a set of ordinances that would prohibit sleeping on public sidewalks, asking for spare change, using blankets and setting down belongings in our downtown area. In a city with significantly more homeless people than shelter beds available, this amounts to criminalizing behaviors that people engage in to survive.
These laws are passed explicitly to allow local police to target poor people, and homeless people and those with disabilities, and displaced communities of color will bear the brunt of the attacks.
And things are only getting worse.
So, Christians, as y’all are getting dressed up to celebrate the fairytale of resurrection, it might be a good time to reflect on the teachings of Jesus.