Photo: Photo By TJ Johnston
Image 1 60
“When you wanna look inclusive but hate homeless people,” tweeted the Coalition on Homeless, captioning a photo of a rainbow-painted rock in a restaurant entryway.
The boulder, painted in the colors of the LGBTQ pride flag, sits in front of Izakaya Sushi Ran, a Japanese restaurant in the Castro neighborhood of San Francisco. TJ Johnston, a reporter for Street Sheet, which is a publication of the Coalition on Homelessness, felt compelled to tweet about the rock, as he saw it as an instance of anti-homeless architecture. Since then, the tweet has gone viral.
“It was pretty clear to me why a big boulder was there in the alcove,” said Johnston. “And I thought, ‘Oh god, now they’re almost pride-washing this anti-homeless piece of architecture.'”
Hostile architecture, most typically associated with “anti-homeless spikes,” is any measure designed to discourage people from sitting or sleeping in public spaces. Johnston found an irony in the LGBTQ-friendly rock: According to an article in the California Sunday Magazine, 48 percent of San Francisco’s homeless youth are LGBTQ.
“It did strike me as very off, very strange that somebody would go through such lengths to basically turn it into a pride thing in a city where so much of its homeless population identifies as LGBTQ,” Johnston continued.
However, Rhonda Richards, the beverage director and bar manager at Izakaya Sushi Ran, says shooing away homeless people was never the restaurant’s intention. Instead, she says the restaurant’s owner, Yoshi Tome, selected the rock for a Japanese zen garden in front of the restaurant.
“After a lot of searching, he and his wife found this rock, and they fell in love with it because it was heart-shaped,” explained Richards.
Jess Meddock, a server at Izakaya Sushi Ran, has worked at the restaurant — and the Japanese pub called Nomica that used to be in the same space and owned by the same people — for several years. She says that the rock has been there for a long time.
“Yoshi loved the rock a lot and he worked really hard to pick it out. He even painted it gold a few times,” said Meddock. “It never occurred to me that it was anti-homeless architecture. [Yoshi] is very much about respect and honor. I remember when I first started, he said that we won’t be like that person in the White House — we will always treat people with respect.”
Furthermore, the staff — who is close to 100 percent LGBTQ, says Richards — voted to paint the rock rainbow to show their support for and involvement in the community. The owner himself chose to open his restaurant in the historically gay Castro neighborhood for that same reason — to show support, as he has two gay children.
“During Pride we wanted permission to make it colorful,” explained Meddock. “People don’t realize that we’re all queer here, and some have battled with homelessness ourselves.”
While there are no plans to remove the rock, Richards says that there is another “safe space” in the entryway of the restaurant that homeless people are free to use as shelter.
“The intention was to marry the two cultures of the Japanese garden tradition and the queer iconic flag,” she said. “We’ve never kicked anyone out. We support our community a lot. It’s hurtful to think that people are crucifying us for trying to be a part of the community visibly.”
However, having heard the restaurant’s response, Johnston still thinks the rock should be removed.
“Even though it may not have been intended as such, it has the effect of being hostile architecture,” he countered. “It can still conceivably prevent somebody from sheltering themselves from pouring rain.”
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Castro-restaurant-rainbow-rock-anti-homeless-pride-14026652.php.