San Francisco Cannot Clear Out Homeless Encampments, Judge Rules
San Francisco cannot clear out its ubiquitous homeless encampments because it hasn’t offered shelter to their inhabitants, a federal judge ruled Friday.
San Francisco homelessness

San Francisco cannot clear out its ubiquitous homeless encampments because it hasn’t offered shelter to their inhabitants, a federal judge ruled Friday.

The city had been conducting sweeps in which it took the tents and belongings of homeless people living in the tent cities until Magistrate Judge Donna Ryu in the U.S. District Court in Oakland granted an emergency order barring the action, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. The order was granted after a group of homeless plaintiffs sued to stop the city.

“Mayors cannot run cities this way,” Mayor London Breed said. “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.”

Ryu said the city’s own laws dictate that it offer shelter to homeless people before clearing away their encampments, and San Francisco would need to add thousands of additional beds to meet the requirement. Ryu cited evidence that the city regularly failed to offer shelter before clearing the encampments and improperly seized or threw out inhabitant’s belongings, including cellphones, medication, identification, and even prosthetic limbs.

Breed said many of the homeless people whose encampments were targeted for cleanup people refused help from the city. She said some even have homes, but use the camps for “drug dealing, human trafficking, and other illegal activities.”

City attorneys said homeless people get fair notice the camps are being cleared, receive offers of help, and are only forced to leave if they reject alternative housing. San Francisco has an estimated 7,800 homeless residents and city officials acknowledge it does not have nearly enough spaces in shelters to accommodate all of them.

There were just 34 beds available as of Friday Zal Shroff, senior attorney with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

The Coalition on Homelessness, one of a handful of legal organizations that represented seven plaintiffs, presented evidence that homeless people had their personal items seized and were and were left with nowhere to go.

“The policy isn’t the problem,” Ryu said. “The question is how is that policy being executed.”

Several Democrat-run cities that have been overrun with homeless encampments have sought to clear them out amid rises in crime and complaints from businesses and residents. But judges have increasingly said the cities cannot push out homeless people without providing them with alternative housing.

A federal judge issued an emergency injunction on December 15 preventing the city of Phoenix from clearing out a large homeless encampment downtown. The ACLU of New Mexico sued the city of Albuquerque last week, charging that officials destroyed homeless encampments without due process.

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