Jan 11, 2023 - News

San Francisco accused of violating order banning homeless sweeps

Tents along the embarcadero

An unhoused man and a city worker near the Ferry Building in December 2022. Photo: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A federal judge will hear motions Thursday in San Francisco's legal dispute over the constitutional rights of unhoused people living in encampments.

Why it matters: In December, U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna Ryu granted an emergency order temporarily banning San Francisco from clearing encampments, confiscating the belongings of unhoused people and citing people for sleeping in public.

State of play: The Coalition on Homelessness and seven unhoused people in San Francisco sued the city in September.

  • The suit alleges the city has violated the constitutional rights of unhoused people by criminalizing homelessness via displacement, known as sweeps, despite a lack of shelters.
  • Ryu wrote last month that her order will remain in effect "as long as there are more homeless individuals in San Francisco than there are shelter beds available."
  • The Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights San Francisco (LCCRSF) on Friday filed a motion alleging San Francisco violated that order by conducting sweeps targeting unhoused people, including during the bomb cyclone weather this month.

What they're saying: Lawyers for the plaintiffs say they have received a number of reports that SFPD and the city have forced unhoused people to move despite lacking adequate shelter, Hadley Rood, a lawyer with LCCRSF, told Axios.

The other side: The city disagrees, saying it is complying with the order. Jen Kwart, a spokesperson for San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu, told Axios in an email that the city "may continue to ensure sidewalks are not obstructed" and "may still ask unhoused people to move temporarily for cleaning activities."

Between the lines: Chiu filed a motion this month asking the judge to clarify the preliminary injunction ruling.

  • Chiu argues the latest ruling contradicts a 2020 court-approved settlement that requires the city to remove the tents of unhoused individuals from the Tenderloin.

By the numbers: San Francisco's unhoused population — currently estimated to be over 7,700 people — has decreased slightly since 2019, according to data released by the city in August.

  • Yes, but: For every one person a San Francisco program houses, an estimated four will become unhoused because the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing has "not been able to keep pace with inflow of people who become newly homeless or return to homelessness throughout the year," the report said.

What's next: Ryu will hear the motions from LCCRSF and Chiu tomorrow, and a ruling could follow.


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