San Francisco’s homelessness crisis has gotten so bad, residents are putting boulders on the streets to stop people from sleeping there

Tent city in Berkeley, California, in May.

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Tent city in Berkeley, California, in May.
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Barbara Munker/Picture Alliance/Getty Images

  • Residents of a San Francisco neighborhood have placed giant boulders along the sidewalk to keep homeless people from setting up tents there.
  • This isn’t the first time boulders have been used for this purpose in San Francisco: In 2017, the city set up boulders under a highway, calling it a “humane” way to discourage people from camping out, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
  • The boulders appeared just before President Donald Trump told reporters that homeless people were ruining “our best highways and our best streets” in San Francisco.
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As San Francisco officials clamber to find a solution for the city’s escalating homelessness crisis, locals have taken some extreme measures to block homeless encampments on their streets.

About two weeks ago, residents of the city’s Clinton Park neighborhood placed two dozen giant boulders along the sidewalk to keep homeless people from setting up tents in the area.

David Smith-Tan, who lives in Clinton Park, told the local news station KTVU that he and his neighbors “chipped in a few hundred dollars” to have the boulders delivered. The neighborhood, he said, is frequently occupied by people who use drugs and “shoot up and stay overnight.”

Read more: San Francisco’s dirtiest street has an outdoor drug market, discarded heroin needles, and piles of poop on the sidewalk

San Francisco has nearly 10,000 homeless residents, a number that’s risen by 30% since 2017. Around 42% of these people struggle with drug or alcohol abuse.

Ernesto Jerez, who also lives in Clinton Park, told KTVU that the boulders have already “helped” with the issue. The boulders each weigh hundreds of pounds, so the chances of homeless people being able to move them are slim.

San Francisco in January 2016.

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San Francisco in January 2016.
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Beck Diefenbach/Reuters

The Clinton Park residents’ decision to set up the boulders follows the lead of San Francisco’s city government, which placed boulders under a highway in 2017 to block homeless encampments there. At the time, city officials said it was a “humane” way to discourage people from camping out, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. But after that, homeless residents either found new spots to pitch their tents, or placed sleeping bags in the empty spaces between the rocks.

A San Francisco Public Works spokeswoman told the Chronicle that the city didn’t plan to move the boulders in Clinton Park. She added that the department was even “looking at options to sanction the boulders.”

In previous years, various groups in San Francisco have tried to deter homeless residents in other ways. In 2015, the San Francisco Roman Catholic Archdiocese installed sprinklers outside a cathedral that sprayed homeless residents who tried to camp out in their doorways. In the 1990s, the city removed benches from a plaza near City Hall to prevent people from sleeping on them; other benches throughout the city feature rails and spikes to prevent homeless people from lying down.

On his recent visit to California, President Donald Trump accused homeless people of ruining San Francisco’s highways, streets, and building entrances. Many residents, he added, “moved to San Francisco because of the prestige of the city, and all of a sudden they have tents. Hundreds and hundreds of tents and people living at the entrance to their office building.”

On Thursday, the Environmental Protection Agency informed the state of California that it was “failing to meet its obligations” under federal environmental laws, citing the “growing homelessness crisis” in Los Angeles and San Francisco as key contributors to the state’s pollution.