Skip to main content

Boulders used to deter homeless camps near San Francisco school

Rocks sit on dirt next to sidewalk.
Boulders placed in San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood are intended to deter encampments. | Source: David Sjostedt/The Standard

A San Francisco street-cleaning nonprofit has installed a line of boulders to deter homeless people from living near an elementary school.

Christian Martin, executive director of SoMa West Community Benefit District, told The Standard the group spent more than $8,000 to purchase and install large rocks on Harrison Street across from Bessie Carmichael Elementary School and Victoria Manalo Draves Park.

Martin said parents had long complained about feces and dirty needles near school grounds. The school was contacted for comment but did not respond by publication time.

He said his organization asked homeless people on the street to move before installing the boulders and that he didn’t collaborate with the city on the effort. 

“We just wanted to carve out a couple of blocks near our park and school,” Martin said. “The couple people that were there were notified in advance and voluntarily relocated.” 

The boulders are reminiscent of a similar installment in the Mission, where residents installed large rocks to deter camping on the sidewalk in Clinton Park in 2019, prompting national media coverage and backlash from homeless advocates. 

READ MORE: San Francisco Homeless Planter War Reaches Flash Point in Troubled Alley

“This is another in a long line of examples of cruelty against unhoused people with nowhere to go,” Hazel Williams, an advocate for homeless people, said about the newly placed boulders in SoMa. “It’s a direct result of the city’s failure to house people, leaving businesses and property owners to create hostile environments that prevent people from resting.”

In recent months, the debate over such tactics has reignited as Downtown residents have taken to installing garden planters to deter homeless encampments. 

steal drums containing plants are seen on a sidewalk opposite tents
Outdoor planters have been popping up around San Francisco. While advocates say they beautify the city, critics say they are an anti-homeless measure. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

Neighbors have defended using the planters, many of which are often manufactured in Nebraska and installed by a Marin-based company. Locals argue it’s their last resort as city leaders fail to address the drug and homelessness crises.

More than 4,000 people sleep on the streets on any given night, while hundreds sit on waiting lists for shelter, including over 300 children. 

Robby Abong, a homeless man living around the corner from Harrison Street, said he wasn’t sure what the point of installing the boulders was. 

“I don’t know why they’re doing it,” he said. “They’re just moving people around.” 

Officials from the city Department of Public Works said they were previously unaware of the boulders on Harrison Street and said the agency would investigate whether the installment complies with city code.

However, because the sidewalk is under the I-80 freeway, the department said it was unsure whether the boulders were placed on city property or land owned by Caltrans. The state transportation department did not respond to a request for comment.

Martin said moving people away from the park was the point of the installment. He said there are plenty of other freeway overpasses in the neighborhood he would prefer people sleep under.

“If they think the one children’s park in SoMa is a place for that, I respectfully disagree,” Martin said. “I invite [critics] to come pick up the feces and the needles and see if that changes their minds.”

David Sjostedt can be reached at