After a federal judge banned the clearing of tents and encampments in SF, City Attorney David Chiu is kindly asking the judge to “clarify” her decision, while also telling her the decision “defies logic.”
A late September lawsuit brought by the Coalition on Homelessness, the ACLU, and a small handful of unsheltered locals sued the city of San Francisco to end the clearing of tents and encampments. And on the night before Christmas Eve, the plaintiffs in that lawsuit got their wish, temporarily, at least.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna Ryu ruled, in a Friday night, December 23 decision, that SF could not clear tents or encampments until it had enough shelter beds to provide a place for every single unhoused person. And as seen below, there were plenty of frustrated cries from city officials to appeal that ruling.
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
City Attorney David Chiu has not appealed the decision, not yet at least. But the Chronicle reports that he’s asked Judge Ryu to “clarify” that ruling, and by “clarify” it seems he wants the ruling limited. Plus, in his Tuesday legal filing, Chiu had some choice words for that December 23 decision.
“It defies logic to require that San Francisco have shelter for all persons experiencing homelessness before San Francisco may enforce these laws against any one person, even after that individual has refused adequate shelter. It would take years and an additional $1.45 billion to build the required shelter beds and provide homeless services,” Chiu said in his Tuesday filing.
Chiu’s point, and it may be a good one, is that Judge Ryu’s ruling conflicts with a ruling in a 2020 lawsuit from UC Hastings mandating that "enforcement measures" be enacted for unsheltered people who refuse relocation alternatives. Chiu’s office is essentially arguing that if people have refused a bed, the city shouldn’t have to provide them one.
Chiu hopes to split hairs with Judge Ryu’s definition of “involuntarily homeless” people, likely in hopes of making the ruling apply to fewer people.
Relatedly, as the SF Standard reports, Public Works employees and SFPD officers attempted an "encampment resolution" on Erie Street ahead of the heaviest rains on Wednesday. They did this, reportedly, because they had 10 extra shelter beds to offer as of this morning, but the encampment dwellers all denied these services and chose to weather the storm in their tents — in at least one case it was because a couple did not want to be separated. Reps from the City Attorney's Office were reportedly on site observing the action.
“Without clarification, the court’s order puts San Francisco in an impossible situation, practically and legally,” City Attorney David Chiu wrote in a statement to the Examiner. “I am concerned that this order, if interpreted broadly, will lead to more people suffering on our City streets.”
Naturally, attorneys for the ACLU and Coalition on Homelessness are pushing back. “The shelter system is closed,” attorney Hadley Rood, of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights that’s representing those plaintiffs, told the Chronicle. “There are 1,000 people on a wait list that has not been opened since early in the pandemic. The city is not offering shelters to the vast majority of people who need them.”
The ACLU and Coalition on Homelessness had hoped to end encampment sweeps, and for now, the gambit has worked. But the next hearing on the matter is scheduled for Thursday, January 12, and Judge Ryu could technically hand Chiu the so-called clarification he wants any time before then.
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