Boulders on Clinton Park. Photo by Julian Mark

The arrival of two dozen anti-homeless boulders on Clinton Park, a quaint residential street near Market and Dolores at the cusp of the Mission, has been met with varying degrees of outrage and acceptance in recent days. 

Yet the question remains: Do these rocks actually deter homeless encampments? Or are they simply a symbol of anti-homeless meanness? 

“I don’t think this is totally going to work — it’s going to backfire a little bit,” said Audrey Soule, a resident of the block. ”It’s going to be this great camping hangout because there are awesome rocks to sit on.” 

Soule and her partner, Rob, live further down the block. They were not part of any effort among residents of the street to install the boulders to deter homeless individuals from camping there, but they supported the effort. Their neighbors reportedly installed the boulders two weeks ago. 

“What I had noticed is the campers are still squeezing it in here,” Rob Soule said. “Then it forces people to walk all the way around the sidewalk.” 

Standing near the new boulders, Phillip Bulicek, who is homeless, agreed with Soules. These rocks are inconvenient — but not a real deterrent. “They take up space the tent can take,” he said, explaining that tents will be pitched anyway. “It actually taking up space a person might be able to use.” 

“I would like to see [San Francisco Public Works] take these boulders away like they take people’s tents away,” he added. 

That’s likely not going to happen.

San Francisco Public Works spokeswoman Rachel Gordon told the San Francisco Chronicle the boulders did not violate city code.

She told Mission Local her department had no plans to remove them and “is looking at options to sanction them.” 

Residents of Clinton Park, in fact, may have been inspired by Public Works itself, which installed anti-encampment boulders at the tangle of bike paths and freeway overpasses at Cesar Chavez and Bayshore in December 2017. It’s unclear if they’ve been working. 

Mark Brumley, a resident of the block, was sitting on one of the boulders Wednesday afternoon. While some of the nighttime activity has become a little quieter, he said, “This is just a band-aid that’s just gonna get torn off.” 

He said he heard his neighbors had spent several thousand dollars on the boulders. “That money could be spent trying to help the homeless people instead of trying to deter them,” he said. 

Bryan Gambogi also sat on one of the boulders and agreed: “This is what you do to keep pigeons away — not human beings.”  

Jeremy Lane, who described himself as homeless but housesitting for a friend on the block, said he could understand the frustration of residents here, as it has been a stop for many “disturbed individuals.” 

But “clearly it’s not a solution,” he continued, explaining that if campers don’t try to squeeze in, they’ll go somewhere else. “It’s not a solution — it’s a bit of a ‘fuck you.’” 

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Julian grew up in the East Bay and moved to San Francisco in 2014. Before joining Mission Local, he wrote for the East Bay Express, the SF Bay Guardian, and the San Francisco Business Times.

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  1. I am 81 years old and lived all over the world. San Francisco in 1960 was so attractive that I wanted to live there. When I retired, and returned, I could not believe what a smelly hell-hole it had become. And apparently there are a lot of people who refuse to see the shit in the streets. It is all illegal drugs. Hypodermic needles in the streets should tell you something. And it is not to furnish free hypodermic needles. A lot of the people seem to be part of the problem, and not the solution. At the end of WWII, Japanese soldiers, who thought they were to die for the emperor, returned in disgrace and went to the opium dens. The answer was to put them in jail for thirty days where they went through “cold turkey” detoxification. Once out, if they went back again, they went to jail again. Solved the problem. California will not spend any money for this. So they wander the streets. Well,if that is what you want. When Turk Murphy died, so did the city.

    1. Sorry, but the neighborhoods you lived in and frequented in 1960 pleasantly helped you avoid the deprivation that was abundant here in the 1960s. Where I live and work I can completely avoid the worst evidence of the homeless crisis, that doesn’t mean that I get to come back in 50 years, find poop on my sidewalk and decry the SF of 2069.

      1. Huh.
        I used to live on Clementina when it was truly a seedy part of town.
        Car break-ins. Car thefts. Folks living on the street.
        Never saw anyone shoot up or drop a deuce by the front door.
        We’d routinely slip a few bucks to the “locals” – they were cool.

        Flip to today.
        The neighbor has an alcove for a front entrance.
        It’s the toilet for current locals.
        You’ve got your splat and you’ve got your pie.
        Sausages, when encountered, are usually dog.

        My front entrance was inhabited off and on by an ambulatory working age white male for almost a year.
        No biggy – you can hang on my stoop especially if it’s raining.
        But then every time he stayed he’d leave a big pile of trash.
        Then started smashing the walls at night.
        Police? The City? Nothing to do but accept the new occupant.

        What is today’s thinking?
        “I’m un-housed and down on my luck. Might as well trash wherever it is I plop down.”

  2. San Franciscans are not the homeless. People come to SF to be homeless, live on the streets, get their drugs, free medical, free food, and really deal with no enforcement to go away. The city let’s it happen.

  3. If the humans are crapping on the street like pigeons, then an intervention is necessary before disease spreads. Do you not care at all about the humans who worked and paid taxes their entire lives to purchase a house only to find an open air drug market and latrine parked on their front stoop? Anti-social behavior must not be tolerated, and if these boulders discourage it, I’m all for them.

  4. Dear Editor,

    Title of this article should be corrected to read:

    ” 4 Housed and 2 Un-Housed Persons Agree: Anti-Drug Dealer and Drug Addict Boulders Won’t Work”

    There you go; you’re welcome.

  5. Someone else posted this but I fully agree with it;

    “Some homeless are mentally ill – they should be taken in, helped and protected.
    Some homeless are down on their luck – they should be helped to get back on their feet.
    Some are homeless as a lifestyle choice – they want the benefits of society, the infrastructure and part of your paycheck without having to contribute – they should be kicked out.”

    1. We keep hearing about working people with jobs, like teachers and drivers, who can’t put together a down payment to get into an apartment. Instead of spending money counting homeless people and hiring a host of people to hand out toiletries, why not pay the payment for the people who need that help. You could take care of a lot more people with a simple one-time payment.

      1. It’s not the “down payment” – at least for Mom and Pop landlords.
        With no control over how many people can live in a unit and the near impossibility of removing a problem tenant, Mom and Pop have become much more sophisticated in the leasing of their property.

        If they choose to stay in the landlord business at all.

        1) Increasingly rental units are being turned over to property management firms who specialize in finding the “right” tenant. Hint – it ain’t a school teacher or driver.
        2) Leases are long and complex. Designed for maximum leverage should tenant problems develop.
        3) High credit scores, the “right” employment history and references are crucial for a prospective tenant.
        4) Mom and Pop are furnishing their rentals thru Craigslist and Ikea and doing AirBnB rentals for 30 day minimums.
        5) Some are turning their furnished apartments over to property management firms specializing in corporate rentals.
        6) If they’ve had enough – they’ll sell their building to an Ellis TIC flipper.

        1. At a meeting of the SFAA, the operators complained to Sup. Peskin that tenancy laws were making it untenable to operate a rental business. Peskin quipped that if you don’t like the city’s laws, you should not be a landlord in it, to which a member responded that’s why he’s Elllising.

        2. Wow, I should not be in this day of Trump, but to suggest a teacher or driver is a bad tenant (bad person) is over the top. Shame on you

          1. Kim, please note I used the word right in quotations marks as in “right” attempting to signify this is not my view but those of Mom, Pop and property management firms.

            Of course schoolteachers not only need housing but also a pay scale in line with their value to society.
            And where would our Amazon culture be without drivers.

            This was a reflection of views held by some landlords who possess rental units in the same buildings in which they live subject to rent control.

            On either side of me are buildings with 3 units with the owner living in one.
            The rental units are vacant and have been for at least a few years.

            Seemingly – the inability to restrict how many tenants can live in a unit was the last straw.

            The theory is that lower level income tenants, as Master Tenants, would quickly turn the unit into a virtual boarding house with as many roommates and subtenants as could be fitted. San Francisco being a transient kind of city this would mean a never ending stream of people coming and going. Domiciles such as this usually have only one water meter compounding the problem of recuperating operating expenses. Water bills are significant these days. If problems should arise like the Master Tenant operating an AirBnB out of one bedroom – how would you even start eviction proceedings involving the possible displacement of a number of people from the unit?

            And if the owner needs to sell the building – you’re looking at hundreds of thousands of dollars off the price for a tenant occupied building and it’s quite possible one would end up selling to some evil Ellis TIC flipper who is cool with the process of throwing people out on the street.

            Price controls and restrictions always have unintended consequences. Perhaps like in our case a “housing shortage” and astronomical rents.

  6. But “clearly it’s not a solution,” he continued, explaining that if campers don’t try to squeeze in, they’ll go somewhere else. “It’s not a solution — it’s a bit of a ‘fuck you.’”

    Even the homeless guy admits, “they’ll go somewhere else”. Exactly, the boulders work!

    I will walk this block over the next few weeks to see if this is actually making an improvement. If so, I’ll recommend for my block as well.

    Homeowners pay well over a million bucks to live in very small places. Spending an extra $2000 or $3000 is nothing in the grand scheme of things. Will probably increase the value by tens of thousands if homeless don’t camp on that block making is a great investment.

    1. What a ridiculous definition of the boulders “working.” That “somewhere else” is where housed residents on some other block are then going to complain about them too.

      The “somewhere else” needs to involve providing affordable, permanent housing. When the city has that to offer, then we can tell people experiencing homelessness to go “somewhere else.” Pushing people from block to block like hot potatoes just makes the problem worse. On top of that, it’s selfish, cruel, and illegal without an offer of shelter.

      1. You seem to have quite a dream that involves spending unlimited amounts of other peoples money. Selfish – the people living on the streets who refuse drug rehab. Cruel – not making mandatory care for the mental ill the law. Boulders- a passive solution to those who feel they can take without offering anything to the society they prey on.

      2. The city has a proven track record of NOT doing enough to help. Residents can only do so much and are obviously fed up. Maybe if more and more neighbors put in these boulders, the city would finally realize that what they are doing is not working. SF is an insanely rich city that has chosen other government programs instead of providing adequate housing. This is the issue. We need to get rid of non essential government programs until all the homeless are housed. No more money for arts, museums, parades, or anything that doesn’t directly help people eat, get housed, or is medicine.

        This issue is bigger than everything else and needs to be treated this way. Once this is fixed, then we can subsidize feel good activities again.

        1. This is a really good point, but the money the city has set aside for the homeless is actually more than adequate. The problem is that the problem scaled up much faster than any civic bureaucracy could adapt.

          Another thing to keep in mind is that literally every person you see in a tent on the sidewalk has been offered housing and is either on a waiting list or refusing to get on one because they have a drug or alcohol problem. Since we can’t force people into treatment we have to watch the quiet, sane homeless who are just trying to make it until their number comes up dwindle and disappear (yay, the system is working) while the drunk and disorderly gather around and take over spaces set up for temporary shelter, turning what once was a camp for homeless people into a thing of horror both for the neighborhood and those trapped there.

          We need to start taking everyone who refuses treatment off the street. We need to spend money on involuntary treatment facilities for this population. Until that gets done it’s never going to change for anyone.

  7. The City spends millions of dollars on the homeless and other problems with no results. Because of City Hall’s ineffectiveness residents are forced to take matters into their own hands. Hopefully this will start a revolt that will get City Hall’s attention. And, maybe it will wake up the votes who elect the incompetents to office.

    1. I bet you are one of those who would donate money to stop a facility for the homeless from opening anywhere near you
      So I have no sympathy

      1. We know already, people like you are delusional fools who think vagrants are saints like in some weepy Hallmark movie. I think they are not good people who are receiving their just karma and simply need to be swept out of the way of people who have no need or responsibility to share in such bad karma.

          1. You are so right… the irony. I have often had many people threaten me with ‘bad karma’ for not enabling vagrants, but here I am in Manhattan this morning, at the Park Hyatt having room service lobster benedict and steak and eggs for breakfast. I think it’s my good karma for fighting for the truth. ‘You are responsible for what happens in your life’ Rule #5 of the rules of karma.

        1. Well Scott, I hope I never meet you. As I know full well you are a person I would never want to be friends with, you have no empathy.

          1. The reservoirs of empathy have long since been exhausted decades and perhaps billions of dollars into this. It is not like homeless arose yesterday and people are freaking out today. This has been a long, slow burn that has begun to really stink up the place in the North Mission, Western SOMA, Showplace, etc. After years and years of patience and nothing but deteriorating conditions on the streets, it is time for those who advocate compassion to put up or stand down.

  8. Homeowners spend a lot of money for those big rocks for landscaping. If I were living on the sidewalk in a tent, I would appreciate the city landscaping my space. Now, maybe some potted geraniums and other fall flowering beauties. And small picnic tables, those would be nice.