Whether or not you’re a church-goer, fifteen years ago, San Francisco’s St. Boniface church started something that would change the community forever. Many churches keep their doors open during the day so people can come in to pray, reflect, contemplate, slow down…
In 2004, Father Louis Vitale partnered with activist Shelly Roder, who started the Gubbio Project, an initiative to remedy the rapidly increasing number of homeless people and give them shelter. While members of the congregation can enter the church at any time and attend afternoon masses, two-thirds of the pews were reserved for the Gubbio Project. 
What Makes the Gubbio Project So Different?
A big concern for many people living in the streets is safety. Homeless shelters provide four walls and a roof, but they can arguably feel like a prison and still be dangerous. The Gubbio Project is different, though. Gubbio staff even conducted a survey and found that out of the homeless people who answered, 95% reported usually or always feeling safe.
“No questions are asked when our guests walk into the churches; in an effort to remove all barriers to entry, there are no sign-in sheets or intake forms. No one is ever turned away; all are welcomed, respected and treated with dignity. The spaces are all ADA accessible.”
Making spaces such as the one at St Boniface available is especially crucial because, as the Gubbio Project highlights, “lack of sleep is one of the most critical health issues for the homeless.” Surprising, right? It’s not something we always consider.
- Heart disease
- Heart attack
- High blood pressure
- Stress and anxiety
- Premature aging
- Memory loss
- Weight gain
- Impaired judgment
- Increased risk of death
Those side effects of sleep loss apply to everyone – even housed people. So, you can only imagine what lack of sleep does to someone who lives every single day with the added stress and danger of living on the street.
“This sends a powerful message to our unhoused neighbors – they are in essence part of the community, not to be kicked out when those with homes come in to worship. It also sends a message to those attending mass – the community includes the tired, the poor, those with mental health issues and those who are wet, cold and dirty.”
The Gubbio Project’s 3 Goals
- Provide a clean, beautiful, quiet, and safe space for people to rest during the day
- Cultivate a sense of community among the homeless and a sense of understanding and shared responsibility in the broader community
- Attend to the physical, social, psychological and spiritual well-being of homeless guests who share the Gubbio space at St. Boniface and St. John
So, if you feel led to get involved and help the Gubbio Project in its effort for the homeless community, this link has all the volunteer details you need.
It’s clear that homeless people are not always treated with the same dignity and respect as people who seem more well-off. But, initiatives such as the Gubbio Project are like a beacon in the night; they help us realize that this world is filled with people in desperate need of hope and a home. And sometimes, home is not so much a physical place as it is a community, a feeling, a family.
- “10 Things to Hate About Sleep Loss.” WebMD. Camille Peri.