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Garden planters to deter homeless encampments pop up in downtown San Francisco

Steel tanks filled with succulents fill the sidewalks.
Steel tanks filled with dirt and succulents were installed on Larch Street in early July. | David Sjostedt/The Standard | Source: David Sjostedt/The Standard

Steel tanks made to feed livestock are increasingly lining the sidewalks of Downtown San Francisco as residents devise creative ways to deter homeless people from setting up camp in their neighborhoods. 

Requests for the steel tubs—which are often filled with dirt and succulents, weigh over 2,000 pounds each and are embossed with the logo of a farming equipment company called Behlen Country—are on the rise on San Francisco streets that have hosted persistent homeless encampments.

But the installations have seen mixed results in deterring people from setting up camp on the streets, as many homeless people continue to pitch tents amid the planters or around the corner. 

Last week, residents of Larch Street, a narrow alley off Van Ness Avenue near the Civic Center, commissioned a company called SF Planters to install 29 of them on their street following complaints that multiple fires had been set by people living on the sidewalk below their buildings.

But by Wednesday afternoon, several people had resettled in tents either just down the street or around the corner. According to city officials, more than 4,000 people sleep on the city’s streets nightly while the city attempts to increase the capacity of its shelters, which remain thousands of beds short of meeting demand. 

A woman named Linda Vasquez, who said she has lived in San Francisco since 1998 but became homeless last month after she was evicted from her apartment, relocated to Van Ness Avenue after police told her to move her tent from Larch Street shortly before the planters were installed last week. 

Vasquez said she is on a waiting list for a shelter that will accommodate her two dogs, Vela and Jordan. 

“I understand if they get mad or upset. I make a mess, but I clean up,” Vasquez said. “If you want me to go inside somewhere, then find me a place.” 

A homeless woman named Linda Vasquez (not pictured) said she has struggled to find a shelter that can accommodate her two dogs, Vela and Jordan. | Source: David Sjostedt/The Standard

Nearby residents and property managers have reported fires, vandalism, drug activity and other disturbances in recent months. 

John Yandell, who has lived in an apartment on the street since the 1980s, said he was pleased that the planters had at least temporarily rid the north end of the street from encampments.

“There are a lot of menacing-looking people wandering around,” said Yandell, who said his window was broken last week. “The chances of something happening are probably low. … But it’s just, what if?”

Cody Cunnington, the owner of SF Planters, has seen a rapid increase in requests for his services over the last eight months in the Mission and Tenderloin neighborhoods.

Cunnington, who lives in Marin County, said that he initially went into business creating custom garden planters for people’s backyards. But he has recently transformed his business model to cater to people who are looking to discourage nearby homeless encampments.

Cunnington said his team will often time its planter installations to follow soon after the city’s cleaning and outreach operations. His large-size planters cost $750. 

In May, residents in the Mission District raised over $20,000 to have Cunnington’s team install 31 steel planters on Harrison Street. And similar installations have popped up around the city’s Downtown core. 

“The demand has been so high,” Cunnington said.

David Sjostedt can be reached at

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