Every day this San Francisco Church provides the homeless with blankets and 'sacred sleep' in its pews
Recent estimates show that there are around 550,00 people who are unhoused on any given night in America. A large percentage of those who find their way to shelters are helped by faith-based organizations.
Forty-one percent of the emergency shelter beds for adults and around 16% of those for families are provided by such groups.
For the past 15 years, the St. Boniface Catholic Church in San Francisco, California has taken The Bible's teachings to heart by alllowing the unhoused sleep in its pews as part of an outreach program called the Gubbio Project.
Every day around 225 unhoused people arrive at St. Boniface to get some much needed rest after a hard night on the streets. Many people experiencing homelessness go to sleep at sun up because it's safer for them to be awake during the night.
Sleeping in public during the night leaves people vulnerable to being attacked or robbed. It's also easier for people without a home to keep warm at night when they are awake.
The church also provides important services for those expericing homeless by handing out about 150 blankets a month, 100 pairs of socks a week, and hygiene kits with soap, shampoo, razors, and toothbrushes on a daily basis.
There are few areas in the United States where the wealth gap is more prominent than in San Francisco and surrounding Bay Area.
"In one of the richest cities in the world, one that 75 billionaires call home, the fact that so many must go without heat, shelter or blankets is confounding," Shannon Eizenga, the nonprofit's new executive director, told the San Francisco Chronicle.
"The scale of the need is staggering. We are living in the midst of a humanitarian crisis. It does feel as though it's 'A Tale of Two Cities,' and this gap is increasing more every day," she continued.
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The project relies on donations to keep its mission going and the church is currently struggling to fix a broken heating system.
"It's super cold in there, and we're in the coldest time of year," Eizenga said.
The project is run on a list of ten overriding principles, the most important being: "All people, especially those who are living on the streets or have mental health or substance abuse issues, are worthy of respect, dignity, and loving kindness."
The Rev. David Erickson of the Episcopal Church of St. Mary the Virgin, a volunteer with the project, belives the work Gubbio does perfectly aligns with his personal spiritual mission.
"We either get disgusted or numb," he said. "But this is a place where I experience grace deeply. The ability to look somebody in the eye and said, 'Can I help you, sir?' I had a gentleman say, 'You called me sir! I haven't been called sir in years!'"
"What they do here isn't going to solve the problem," he continued. "But it's going to do something for the problem right now."