A San Francisco gallerist is defending himself from allegations made over the weekend that he poured a bucket of water onto a homeless woman and her belongings from the roof of his contemporary art venue on June 22.
Don Soker was identified as the man seen in a 10-second video clip of the incident by Spike Kahn, the founder of a neighboring arts complex called Pacific Felt Factory. After calling out the gallery owner, a well-known figure in the Bay Area arts community, the pair got into a heated exchange in the comments section of Kahn’s original post.
“When I asked her to move I was roundly cursed,” Soker wrote, in part. “Forget calling police or 311 so what’s so bad about a cold shower on a hot day? Also I have never done this before and she simply moved down to the next building.”
“The water falling is so hard that it could not only hurt her, but when you have no home, and when she’s trying to dry her few possessions, you do it again?” responded Kahn, in part. “Jesus man, no regrets?”
Soker’s recollection of the incident has changed many times over the last week. The short clip that went viral on social media depicts the gallerist pouring water on the homeless woman’s belongings but not her person. But despite his response on Facebook, Soker now claims that the water never directly struck the woman.
Apparently, Soker’s social media exchange with Kahn was the first time he publicly acknowledged his role in the incident. Previously, he suggested roofing workers may have dumped water on the homeless woman during an interview with a reporter from KPIX-TV, a local news affiliate of CBS. The landlord of the property and its maintenance person have since told the program that no roofing work was being performed the weekend of the confrontation.
“Look out this is just what is needed,” Soker wrote in one of his Facebook comments to Kahn. “A confrontation between the former liberal, now socially accepted wealthy gentrificated [sic] locals and against those locals who were unable to achieve such a level of hypocrisy.”
Don Soker Contemporary Art has been a fixture of San Francisco’s Mission District for more than 40 years. The city, which is home to the nation’s seventh-largest homeless population, has experienced repeated cycles of gentrification as wealthy members of the tech industry have moved into working-class neighborhoods traditionally home to people of color, like the Mission. Rents have risen so dramatically in San Francisco that the city’s current housing crisis is making some apartments unaffordable even for those earning six-figure salaries.
On the controversy, Jennifer Friendenbach with the Coalition on Homelessness, a nonprofit based in San Francisco, released the following statement:
We demand a public apology from Mr. Soker and payment of damages to the women he terrorized with water buckets. Whether that’s a gracious offer of temporary housing or financial support, it would go a long ways in demonstrating his remorse to a horrified community, but ultimately once the woman is located she can request appropriate damages.
Since going public on Facebook about the incident, Soker has not responded to most requests for comment by the media. He did, however, provide a response to the Los Angeles Times via email.
“Anyone who paused the video shortly before the end can see the woman sitting on a bench near the curb,” he told the newspaper. “I poured water on a pile of flammable garbage she had leaned against the building wall and refused to move. The woman who posted the video could not possibly see where the water went because of the trees and the homeless woman spent another night before moving on. Don’t believe everything you read.”
“Now I’m afraid to leave my building,” Soker added.
Shortly after news of the incident broke, the San Francisco Police Department said that they would investigate the matter. No charges have been brought against Soker and the homeless woman who experienced the dousing has not been publicly identified.
“I guess Don Soker has some explaining to do,” Kahn wrote in a later Facebook post. “To the SFPD for one. TO THE COMMUNITY for another.”