The ornately painted ceiling, stained-glass windows, huge marble columns and organ pipes high above the wooden pews could make St. Boniface Church a stop on any San Francisco tourist’s must-see list. But the loud snores and incense burned to help cover pungent smells quickly indicate this isn’t your standard sanctuary.
For the homeless people who enter the Tenderloin church at 6 a.m., it’s something even more sacred: a place to stretch out and enjoy hours of safe, uninterrupted sleep.
Project Gubbio was founded around Easter 2004 by activist pastor Father Louie Vitale, who retired several years ago. He named it after the town of Gubbio, Italy, where legend says that townspeople befriended a killer wolf who they realized wasn’t dangerous at all – just hungry.
Like the city’s response to homelessness itself, Project Gubbio has had its fits and starts. In 2006, it was nearly shuttered due to lack of funds, and its sleep hours were slashed from 7 a.m.-4 p.m. to 8 a.m.-noon.
The project has regained some of its footing, in part due to a $100,000 gift from the Sisters of the Holy Family in Fremont. It’s now open from 6 a.m.-1 p.m. every weekday.
But it has also seen an influx of people wanting to stretch out on its 76 pews, and those who run the program say it’s because of the demolition of the old Transbay Terminal. In fall 2010, when the terminal was razed, Project Gubbio had an average of 54 sleepers. Now, it averages 90, and there are plenty of days when the total exceeds 100.
“After (the terminal) closed, there were a lot of new faces that showed up,” said Dave Webber, a hospitality monitor for the project. “A lot of people didn’t realize how big that complex was, and there were a lot of nooks and crannies where people could get out of the wind.”
Many homeless shelters close in the early morning and don’t allow homeless people to stay during the day unless they have a medical condition that requires it. And the city’s new ban on sitting or lying on sidewalks during the day means homeless people have to keep moving….
Many [homeless] force themselves to stay awake all night for fear of being attacked or robbed and save sleep for the calmer daytime hours. By 6 a.m., scores are lined up outside St. Boniface, ready to drift off at last.
The above appeared in the March 12 San Francisco Chronicle.
Posted Thursday, March 29, 2012 1:25 AM By Fr.Michael Perea Well this is certainly something to think about. St.Francis pray for these poor people.
Posted Thursday, March 29, 2012 4:00 AM By Thomas Edward Miles Thank the Lord for the wonderful work of the FRANCISCANS! It is refreshing to see the GOSPEL in action in the church for a change! A break from all of the far right wing nonsense in the church is a true gift from God!!!
Posted Thursday, March 29, 2012 5:47 AM By Abeca Christian Here we are in the comfort of our homes, while others are cold, and sleepless due to homelessness. We are blessed let us not forget and lets help those that are worst than us when we can.
Posted Thursday, March 29, 2012 6:19 AM By JMJ This is only just a small piece of the picture that we have in this country and I am very afraid that it will only get worse when Obama puts himself in the White House again as he is out to destroy our Church and anything or anyone that gets in his way. Just imagine what will happen to us when we are forced to use the CHIP (it is real, folks) and for those of us that refuse, we won’t even have a building to sleep in. I wonder just how long their Dept of Health will allow this as, sadly, these people also need a place to bathe and many of them have serious health problems, not to mention the lice and fleas, etc. that need attention. Thank God that they don’t have the severe cold weather to put up with as here in N.E. which is causing problems for the small shelters with the high cost of heat and very little money coming in to help support these places. Praise God for this kind Pastor had the foresight to give these poor people some relief. +JMJ+
Posted Thursday, March 29, 2012 8:30 AM By JLS The late Bishop John Ward of St Timothy’s in WLA allowed a homeless alcoholic man to sleep in the portico under a ton of newspapers. He was there every sunday morning. Months went by and he began to show up at Mass, with an obviously cleaner and neater appearance.
Posted Thursday, March 29, 2012 8:35 AM By Deacon Tom “Far right wing nonsense” and “Gospel in action in the Church for a change.” How about dropping the nonsensical “labels” for a change. Peace be with you.
Posted Thursday, March 29, 2012 10:04 AM By JanJan No folks, this is not OK! Just as the Occupy folks soiled their sites, so will these homeless snoozers. A church is not a dorm room! This is terribly disrespectful, not to mention unsanitary.
Posted Thursday, March 29, 2012 10:23 AM By goodcause A story like that just perks up my whole day! God Bless All who are part of it, including the homeless.
Posted Thursday, March 29, 2012 12:16 PM By MacDonald Christ at work in the City of Saint Francis…
Posted Thursday, March 29, 2012 3:18 PM By Jimmy Mac It isn’t just the pastor who is the force behind the Gubbio Project. It has been going on for years, thanks to Fr. Louis’s foresight, and is a lay-led, lay-financed and lay-ministered program. When parishioners are treated like adults they will accept adult responsibility and act like adults.
Posted Thursday, March 29, 2012 4:45 PM By Dana That is so true, JMJ. Another despot, Henry VIII destroyed all the Abbeys in England, and by so doing, took away all the support and shelter for the poor, the aging, the sick and the dying. While he is known to have killed around 90,000 of his own people directly, I wonder how many died forgotten and alone because of his tyranny? Look at the poor women in the modern international slave trade who were helped so much by the Church, working with the help of gov’t funds and information. Now who is to help them?
Posted Thursday, March 29, 2012 8:08 PM By JLS JMJ, my three dogs are chipped. Hopefully these chips do not migrate, as they sometimes do, down into the backs of their right paws.
Posted Thursday, March 29, 2012 11:54 PM By Maryanne Leonard My heart breaks for the homeless, the poor, and those who are physically or mentally ill, many of whom are also very poorly nourished, poorly clothed, unwashed, unemployed or underemployed, undereducated, and/or addicted to a variety of substances or behaviors that serve them poorly. These people definitely need our help. But does it not make more sense to allow them to sleep overnight, when the body makes a lot more melatonin, and allow Catholics to attend Mass in the early morning? I have helped at homeless shelters, often offered in churches, and there is definitely a need to clean up after a space (usually not a sanctuary) has been occupied overnight by these poor unfortunate souls. It seems a shame to turn a church into a homeless shelters by day and have it empty by night when it could serve as a nighttime shelter and a day and evening church. Please do not believe from my comments that I feel these people should not be helped. I have tried to describe the situations I noticed that most of them are dealing with and am not suggestiving dismissing them, just proposing a more reasonable and extensive use of the premises for both homeless and needy as well as the worship of God by the faithful.
Posted Friday, March 30, 2012 12:23 PM By MacDonald @ Maryanne Leonard 11:54 PM — I had the same thought and question, and am wondering if maybe there are some regulations that don’t permit the use of the church at night, which is a real shame. Perhaps there is some license or such one would need to buy, which the Gubbio Project cannot afford? I hate the idea of these homeless people having to scramble about at night, worried about getting attacked, when they could be sleeping in St. Boniface instead.
Posted Friday, March 30, 2012 12:26 PM By MacDonald @ JanJan 10:04 AM — I’m sorry you feel it’s disrespectful for God’s house to shelter…well…God’s poor, but the parish is doing a great thing, I believe. That part of San Francisco is very rough, and if the churches and synagogues are opening their doors, God bless them! (And many other churches are doing the same, by the way, and have been doing so for a long, long time.)
Posted Friday, March 30, 2012 1:37 PM By Jimmy Mac JanJan, before you make unwarranted assumptions about those nasty, dirty homeless people, visit St. Boniface and see the entire operation, including the love shown to the guests by those in charge of the program. If the guests can’t find a comfortable place in a church, then that church has lost its mission to feed the hungry and cloth the naked – no matter how “unsanitary” they might be.