SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — A coalition of homeless advocates and civil rights attorneys released a list of demands for the City of San Francisco to settle a lawsuit that forbids police from forcing homeless residents off public property.

The letter sent to City Attorney David Chiu on Thursday offers a proposed settlement to resolve the lawsuit, Coalition on Homelessness v. City of San Francisco. A U.S. District Court judge found in favor of the plaintiffs in the underlying lawsuit last year, and the court issued an injunction against San Francisco.

“At its heart, San Francisco’s homelessness crisis is an affordable housing crisis,” said Cynthia Castillo, Policy Advocate of the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “Instead of ensuring that Californians without housing have universal access to a safe, permanent, and affordable place to live, harassment tactics continue to displace and segregate unhoused people. The city’s homelessness problem will never be solved until there is an affordable place for people to live.”

Thousands of people are “forced” to sleep on San Francisco’s streets every night while the city’s shelter beds are at functional capacity, according to homeless advocates.

“We invite city leaders to meet us on the substantial common ground we all share,” said Zal Shroff, acting legal director of Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights. “No one, including our clients, believes the city should embrace street homelessness and turn a blind eye to the conditions on the street.”

LCCRSF, ACLU NorCal, and Latham & Watkins LLP represent the Coalition on Homelessness in its lawsuit against San Francisco.

“We invite City Attorney Chiu to schedule a meeting with our team to discuss collaborative next steps in this litigation,” said John Do, staff attorney at ACLU. “It’s time to find a more productive way forward, for the good of all San Franciscans.”

The list of demands for a proposed settlement includes:

  1. “Fill All Vacant Supportive Housing Units: Make the improvements necessary to be able to fill the close to 1,000 currently vacant supportive housing units, and fill all units within 30 days of any new vacancy.”
  2. “Expend Unused But Budgeted Funds: Spend down unspent Proposition C (Nov. 2018) and Proposition I (Nov. 2020) funds as intended for housing, shelter, treatment, and prevention by the end of the fiscal year.”
  3. “Make Temporary Shelter Available & Accessible: Maintain a shelter waitlist to allow access through 311 and drop-in centers while also allowing for same-day lines to ensure access to unused shelter beds. Shelter should be an emergency stopgap measure that leads to permanent housing. Shelters available through this system should include all shelter sites, including congregate, semi-congregate, tiny home, and non-congregate shelter options and navigation centers. Shelter placements must include accessible options for those with a disability.”
  4. “Implement a Better Plan to Resolve Encampments: Social services personnel should actually conduct detailed, individualized assessments of the needs of specific unhoused residents. This better ensures that people receive appropriate services to exit homelessness and are not being pushed from block to block without a housing solution.”
  5. “Provide Better Trash Disposal & Sidewalk Cleanings: Everyone, including unhoused people, want streets free of trash and debris. Such cleaning schedules must follow posted signage and should not be conducted between 7:00PM and 7:00AM when unhoused residents are trying to sleep. The city cannot use street cleanings as a pretext to harass unhoused residents instead of appropriately cleaning the area.”
A homeless man lives in a makeshift cardboard structure in the Tenderloin. (Image courtesy JJ Smith)

The letter was sent by ACLU of Northern California, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, National Police Accountability Project, Western Center on Law and Poverty, and the San Francisco Public Defenders’ Office.

“People forced to live on the streets need compassion, services and shelter,” said Diane Goldstein, executive director of LEAP. “As an organization of and by law enforcement, we understand the profound costs of being called to police unhoused people whose only crime is existing. This costly use of law enforcement resources does not solve homelessness, takes us away from doing our jobs, and only promotes distrust from the community, which undermines public safety. City leaders should realign their resources to get at root causes to break the cycle that keeps so many people sleeping outdoors.”

San Francisco’s homeless population is estimated around 8,000. City data shows about half of the city’s homeless residents refuse to accept shelter services when offered. In 2023, the city’s Healthy Streets Operations Center teams approached and engaged with 2,344 unsheltered people living on the streets.

Of those 2,344 people, 1,065 accepted shelter services. Fifty-four percent of people experiencing homelessness — or 1,278 people — declined offers for shelter.

The next court hearing on the case is scheduled for August 24.