A coalition of the Coalition on Homelessness, the ACLU, and a handful of unsheltered people have brought a U.S. District Court lawsuit against San Francisco, hoping to halt encampment sweeps under the claim that they are unconstitutional on several levels.
California cities’ responses to homelessness are increasingly getting them hauled into court, and San Francisco is no exception. When cities do provide places for unsheltered individuals to stay, neighborhood activists will sue to get those facilities closed. When cities try to clear encampments, the encampment residents will sue to stop those clearings. These are usually specific, targeted lawsuits that only apply to the handling of one shelter or encampment, and not about broader homelessness policies.
But at the odd hour of 7:30 p.m. Tuesday night, the City and County of San Francisco was sued in a U.S. District Court in a lawsuit that aims to end encampment sweeps citywide, according to the Chronicle. As seen above, the lawsuit names the Coalition on Homelessness and seven unhoused individuals as plaintiffs, and was filed by the ACLU and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area.
It names the City and County of San Francisco, the SFPD, Public Works, the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, the SF Fire Department, the Department of Emergency Management, Healthy Streets Operation Center (HSOC) director Sam Dodge, and Mayor London Breed herself as defendants. It alleges that SF homeless encampments sweeps have violated state and federal law, and demands the city build more affordable housing and shelter facilities.
“This is the accumulation of years of witnessing, documenting and responding to fundamentally abusive human rights violations that unhoused people have had to experience at the very worst time in their lives,” Coalition on Homelessness director Jennifer Friedenbach said in a statement to the Chronicle. “We hope to accomplish a dramatic shift from a city that responds to homelessness with sweeps, with confiscation of property, with criminalizing folks for being poor to a city that is instead addressing the issue at its core through the provision of housing.”
The lawsuit cites the 2018 U.S. Court of Appeals decision Martin v. Boise (which the Supreme Court refused to strike down) that ruled cities cannot prosecute people for staying on the street if they cannot otherwise provide adequate shelter for them. It argues that encampment sweeps violate the Fourth Amendment protections against illegal search and seizure, Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment, and the 14th Amendment right to due process.
As with any lawsuit, it will likely be in the courts for months or years. But Mission Local adds the detail that it may soon halt all SF encampment sweeps as "an emergency hearing is expected to take place in the next five to six weeks" on that matter. So this lawsuit may be one that truly affects homeless policies citywide for some period, though even that may prove temporary, and only if plaintiffs win the initial preliminary hearing.
Image: Joe Kukura, SFist