Sep 14, 2023 - News

California to intervene in San Francisco's homeless encampment case

Photo of Gavin Newsom speaking while gesturing with one hand

California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a a news conference about the state's efforts on the homelessness crisis on Jan. 16, 2020, in Oakland. Photo: Justin Sullivan via Getty Images

​​California is jumping into the legal battle over San Francisco's ability to clear homeless encampments, Gov. Gavin Newsom said this week at a Politico event in Sacramento.

Why it matters: The city is under a temporary court order that prevents it from enforcing anti-camping laws until more shelter beds are available, the result of a lawsuit alleging San Francisco violates the rights of unhoused people by seizing and destroying their property.

State of play: Under a federal judge's order in December, the city cannot punish unhoused people who sit or sleep outdoors if they have nowhere else to go, though it was clarified after a recent hearing that it can clear an encampment if a person experiencing homelessness rejects a specific shelter offer.

  • San Francisco has appealed the order to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

What he's saying: The state plans to file an amicus brief in support of the city, according to Newsom.

  • "I've had it," the former San Francisco mayor said. "I hope this goes to the Supreme Court, and that's a hell of a statement coming from a progressive Democrat out of California."
  • The city is arguing that the decision — handed down by the U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna Ryu of the Northern District of California — prevents it from minimizing unsafe, makeshift encampments and enforcing necessary limits on sleeping and camping on public sidewalks, a point Newsom emphasized at the event.
  • "People's lives are at risk; it's unacceptable what's happening on the streets and sidewalks," he added. "We're now complicit, all of us, at all levels of government and all branches of government."

The other side: The solution to addressing homeless encampments is "providing real access to affordable housing and shelter," Zal K. Shroff, acting legal director for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, told Axios in a written statement.

  • The organization filed a motion in January accusing the city of violating the court order by conducting sweeps targeting unhoused people.
  • San Francisco "can still clean and clear encampments to provide safer conditions for all residents — housed and unhoused," Shroff said.
  • "But arresting thousands of Californians just because they cannot find shelter, making it illegal to be homeless and summarily destroying tents is not the answer."

The big picture: Newsom has previously lambasted judges' decisions for "paralyzing local government's ability to address homelessness." He announced last month an additional $38 million to help clean up encampments throughout the state.


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