The ACLU and the Coalition on Homelessness’s lawsuit against the city of San Francisco has brought an emergency order to temporarily halt all encampment sweeps, and Mayor Breed and her allies are furious with the decision.
Some huge news dropped early Friday night, on the eve of Christmas Eve, that had political ramifications throughout the holiday weekend. You may recall a September federal lawsuit against the city of San Francisco filed on behalf of seven homeless plaintiffs, the Coalition on Homelessness, and the ACLU, claiming that the way the city was conducting homeless encampment sweeps was unconstitutional. As that trial moves along, the Chronicle reports that on Friday night, a U.S. magistrate judge issued an emergency injunction that banned the SFPD and the city from clearing encampments, a ban that could remain in place for months, if not the better part of 2023.
SF has at least 7754 unhoused folks, 4400 without any shelter. Mayor Breed's solution - 10-50 available beds per night.— John Hamasaki (@HamasakiLaw) December 23, 2022
History is not going to be kind to those involved with
encampment sweeps. https://t.co/BpYWzQ6YxH
U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna Ryu issued the emergency order Friday night, citing a 2018 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision Martin v. Boise (which the Supreme Court refused to strike down) which said that cities can not prosecute people for staying on the street unless they can provide adequate shelter bed options. “There’s no way for a person to voluntarily try to access a (shelter) bed at this point in San Francisco,” Ryu said at a hearing last week, according to the Chronicle.
Magistrate Judge Ryu apparently believes the Constitution prohibits the involuntary removal of a single encampment unless and until SF has more shelter beds than homeless people. That’s absurd, and the City must appeal. https://t.co/QKtCA6g1z1 via @sfchronicle— Rafael Mandelman (@RafaelMandelman) December 24, 2022
Mayor London Breed publicly fumed at the decision (as did her political allies Supervisor Rafael Mandelman and Supervisor Matt Dorsey). “Mayors cannot run cities this way,” Breed said in a statement to the Associated Press. “We already have too few tools to deal with the mental illness we see on our streets. Now we are being told not to use another tool that helps bring people indoors and keeps our neighborhoods safe and clean for our residents.”
You’ll notice the Mandelman tweet above calls for an appeal of the decision, but City Attorney David Chiu was a little more measured in response to the ruling his office is clearly not happy with. “The Court’s order sweeps unnecessarily broadly, and the City remains concerned that it will result in unintended, adverse consequences for both housed and unhoused San Franciscans,” Chiu’s office spokesperson Jen Kwart told the Chronicle. “Every community should contribute to ending homelessness with housing and services while balancing the need for healthy and safe streets. San Francisco constantly works to achieve a sustainable balance, and we hope the Court will recognize that need as this case moves forward.”
An emergency order is banning the City and County of San Francisco from sweeping homeless encampments and destroying people’s belongings. https://t.co/xPZdZQn3Xt— KRON4 News (@kron4news) December 27, 2022
The gist of this emergency order, and the lawsuit itself, is that SF doesn’t have nearly enough shelter beds for the magnitude of its homeless populations, and therefore ought not to be clearing tents or encampments if they cannot offer alternative shelter. This year’s point-in-time homeless “census” found about 7,800 unsheltered people in the city, but attorneys for the plaintiffs say the city only has a few dozen shelter beds available on any given night.
“San Francisco says it has enough shelter for everyone, but in fact they never have enough shelter — on 80% to 90% of the days they don’t,” Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights lead attorney Zal Shroff told the Chronicle.
The AP adds that there are similar lawsuits being brought by ACLU chapters elsewhere; the ACLU of Arizona is suing the city of Phoenix to stop sweeps, and the ACLU of New Mexico is suing Albuquerque for similar reasons. So this is something of an attempted legal movement afoot, but each trial is individual and separate.
In the SF trial, according to KRON4, the ban on encampment sweeps “will stay in place until there is a trial, which the ACLU hopes will happen within a year.” But that station also adds that “There will be a formal settlement discussion with the city in January,” and that may be where this gets resolved.
Image: Nathan Dumlao via Unsplash