Church Ends Program of Daytime Homeless Beds
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News, I'm Madeleine Brand.
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
I'm Alex Chadwick.
Here is a story about compassion, or perhaps, misplaced charity. Anyway it takes place at St. Boniface Church in San Francisco, where the Franciscan Friars welcome the cities homeless to sleep in their pews during the day.
BRAND: But because of money problems the church has had to cut the number of hours the homeless can sleep there from eight to four. And the people who helped the cities homeless say the cut backs are actually a good thing.
From member station KQED Sarah Varney reports.
SARAH VARNEY: The Tenderloin is San Francisco's black hole. It sucks in people who are out of luck, out of money, out of their minds, out of will. On this warm fall day, men and woman push shopping carts loaded with bottles, cans, blankets. Some sit on the sidewalks looking agitated and anxious. The Tenderloin doesn't hope like the rest of San Francisco, it sways and creaks. Urine ferments into the air and it's maddeningly chaotic.
Through a black wrought iron gate, looms St. Boniface, a stone church nearly the length of a city block. In the back of the church, men and woman stretched out on pews sleep soundly.
(Soundbite of snoring)
VARNEY: At about a quarter to noon, staff member Yvette Rodriguez starts nudging people awake.
Ms. YVETTE RODRIGUEZ (Staff Member, Boniface Church): Come on baby I need you to get up. Come on honey I need you to get up because it's time to go. So I need you to exit out the front door.
VARNEY: Up until a few weeks ago, the homeless could sleep inside the church and use the restrooms until late afternoon, John Weeks runs the program.
Mr. JOHN WEEKS (St. Boniface Church): You know when someone is hungry, you feed them, when someone is tired, you let them lay down. There is a lot of people out there who stay up all night, because you know, they are afraid to go to sleep.
VARNEY: About a dozen people gather their blankets and overstuffed bags and shuffle out of the church. Most look disoriented and our reluctant to speak except for Norman Depover(ph) he's only 51 but looks much older. His thick glasses are cloudy and he closes his eyes when he speaks.
Mr. NORMAN DEPOVER (Homeless man): I was born in Detroit Michigan, I've been coming here for four years, because it's the safest place that you don't get yelled at.
VARNEY: If the Tenderloin is a black hole, St. Boniface is a parallel universe. The air is cool and fresh, the mood reflective, the sounds melodious. I asked Norman what he finds here.
Mr. DEPOVER: Safety and serenity. Peace. I can use the facilities in the back without knowing my stuff will be gone. There are no fights in here. It's quiet.
VARNEY: Just a few blocks from the Tenderloin, at City Hall, the head of San Francisco's Homeless Program, Trent Rhorer, says he understands the need for peace and quiet. But he says the churches sleeping program doesn't help those who are mentally ill, addicted to drugs, or both.
Mr. TRENT RHORER (San Francisco Homeless Program): It's less compassionate to support and give money to a program that helps someone sustain a lifestyle that's destructive.
VARNEY: And that's just what the St. Boniface sleep program is doing, he says: sustaining a destructive lifestyle.
Mr. RHORER: When somebody's an addict and is using heroine during the day, it gives them a safe, warm place to sleep off their high.
VARNEY: Rhorer acknowledges that criticizing a charitable program like this one is potential controversial. Especially in San Francisco. But, he says, the city is offering a positive alternative. It has an ambitious plan to aid the chronically homeless in other ways. The city has already provided permanent housing to more than 2,200 people in the last two years, and plans to house 3,000 more.
For Norman, though, his home remains a temporary shelter. After sleeping the morning at St. Boniface, he heads out for lunch at a soup kitchen around the corner.
Mr. DEPOVER: Hello, Calvin.
CALVIN (Soup Kitchen Worker): Hey, Norman. How you doing?
Mr. DEPOVER: I'm in line, waiting for today's wonderful delicacy.
VARNEY: After he finishes his bean stew and salad, Norman plans to spend the afternoon recycling bottles and cans.
Back around the block, at St. Boniface, the afternoon air is cooling and a homeless man sleeps on the sidewalk in front of the locked gates.
For NPR News, I'm Sarah Varney in San Francisco.
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