Mayor London Breed is again putting out the message that the city needs to enforce laws about camping in public spaces, ahead of a potential Supreme Court decision on the issue next year.
In November, according to San Francisco's encampment outreach teams, 60 percent of individuals encountered in encampment cleanup operations refused offers of shelter beds. In October, the figure was 65 percent, and in September, 60 percent. Mayor London Breed was publicizing these figures on X Tuesday morning, saying, "This is why enforcing our laws is important. Our laws are for the health and safety of everyone. There are public safety challenges around encampments. There are threats of fire. We lead with compassion, but when we have resources – and we do – we need people to accept help."
Street Outreach Update: In November, encampment workers encountered 350 people during planned operations, offering services and shelter to all:— London Breed (@LondonBreed) December 11, 2023
• 117 accepted shelter
• 20 were already housed
213 times – 60% of the time – people refused to accept help and move indoors. (1/6)🧵 pic.twitter.com/FYRQ0lzark
Breed noted that were 350 individuals encountered in these sweeps last month, 20 of whom were already housed, and 117 of whom accepted shelter offers. 213 did not, and homeless advocates have been explaining that this is typically because individuals don't want to be separated from pets, friends, or belongings, and/or they don't want to go somewhere for a night or two and then be back on the street seeking a place to sleep again.
Sobriety requirements at shelters and access to drugs is certainly an issue in some cases as well.
Breed gave a couple of specific encampment location examples, saying that at one encampment at 15th and Julian streets, 14 people were encountered, four accepted shelter, and ten did not. At another at Larkin and Willow streets, 19 people were encountered, eight accepted shelter, and 11 did not.
"Our outreach workers will keep offering shelter, and with the addition of 300 more beds we’ve just opened, we have even more help to offer," Breed said. "We are continuing to help people exit homelessness with financial assistance, relocation support, and housing options. We are adding more ways to compel people into treatment, including implementing new conservatorship laws."
Breed added, "We have to get more people to accept help because more and more the challenges on our streets are about the deadly drugs ruining people’s lives and hurting our neighborhoods."
The efforts by the city's homeless outreach teams and sweeps by Public Works are the subject of an ongoing legal battle between homeless advocates and the city, and a federal district judge issued an injunction last December that appeared to tie the city's hands in enforcing camping rules. That injunction and the lawsuit brought by the Coalition on Homelessness, the ACLU, and several individuals, were appealed to the Ninth Circuit, and the appeals court, while not ruling on the merits of the case, appeared to rule in September that so long as the city was offering alternate shelter, encampment sweeps could continue pending a further ruling — even if some refused those offers.
At issue is a Ninth Circuit ruling in 2018 that said that the City of Boise, Idaho was violating the Constitution by forcibly moving homeless people off of public property without having adequate shelter to offer them. A subsequent ruling in another case out of Oregon found that cities can not fine or penalize people for camping on public property when alternate shelter can't be offered.
Confusion generated by the two cases led San Francisco and 50 other city governments to file amicus briefs with the Supreme Court this fall, pleading with them to take up the issue. The court has not yet said whether it will take up the cases for review — but it could as early as next month.
Governor Gavin Newsom and Breed both amped up their rhetoric around the issue of encampments throughout the summer and fall, and Breed posted a video of herself at an August encampment sweep on Willow Street — an alley off of Van Ness known to be one of the most regular magnets for tents, and thus a frequent target for sweeps.
How well the sweeps and the outreach efforts are working may be a factor of coordination. And a city audit published last month found that the 11 different outreach teams who make regular contact with the homeless aren't always in good contact with each other.
Supervisor Dean Preston, who had called for the audit of the issue, said in a statement, "There no doubt that these teams have saved countless lives, connected people to services they desperately needed, and help deescalate situations that could have otherwise become tragic... But there’s no sugarcoating it, the audit found some areas that will require serious improvement."