Archdiocese Of San Francisco Decides To Stop Hosing Down The Homeless

homeless person on park bench
Photo credit: Cylonphoto /


“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” – Matthew 25:41-45 (NIV)

As a good progressive Christian, I do try to live by the whole “judge not lest ye be judged” thing. It’s not just an article of faith; it’s also much less stressful than getting high and mighty about other people’s actions. But I did feel my blood pressure going up just a bit when I read that the Archdiocese of San Francisco had installed a sprinkler system on its cathedral not to provide water for plants, but to discourage homeless people from sleeping on the building’s alcoves.

They’ve taken the system down now, and Auxiliary Bishop William Justice, the rector of St. Mary’s Cathedral, has issued an apology: “We are sorry that our intentions have been misunderstood and recognize that the method used was ill-conceived. It actually has had the opposite effect from what it was intended to do, and for this we are very sorry.” What were those original misguided intentions? Well, to move those homeless folks along – the archdiocese’s spokesperson told KCBS “We do the best we can, and supporting the dignity of each person… But there is only so much you can do.”

Keep in mind that all of this took place during one of the worst droughts in the state’s history. Maybe it’s just me, but hosing down homeless people really doesn’t rise to the level of a pressing need for water use.

While there are health and safety issues at play here, what strikes as the most “sinful” aspect of this story is the church’s willingness to degrade other human beings. Yes, I’ve been to San Francisco – numerous times – and I know the homeless population there is massive. I know many of these poor people suffer from mental illnesses, so communication can be difficult. I know some are ill-mannered and belligerent. None of these rise to the level of justification for turning the sprinklers on them…

We’re all broken, of course, and the archdiocese has apologized. I hope this drives them to redouble their efforts to serve these people… and to perhaps be a bit more mindful of their use of resources.

Got thoughts? Disagree with my assessment? Share your thoughts with us…

About the Author

Jeff McIntire-Strasburg is the founder and editor of sustainablog. You can keep up with all of his writing at Facebook, and at