SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — San Francisco Mayor London Breed wrote a lengthy update on Monday about one of the city’s most controversial and heated issues: Homelessness.
“Some have attacked us and sued us over our homelessness policies,” Breed wrote.
One lawsuit filed by homeless advocates resulted in an injunction that prevents San Francisco city crews from being able to force any homeless person from moving off of a public space, such as a sidewalk. A judge who ruled in favor of the lawsuit said “involuntarily homeless” people had a right to live and sleep on the streets.
The mayor said some people use encampments to carry out illegal activities such as open-air drug markets.
“This obstruction has not helped get more people into housing or shelter. It’s only left more people on our streets who we want to help get indoors. And it’s created the opportunity for those who want to use tents and encampments not primarily for housing but to conduct illegal behavior like drug dealing, human trafficking, and theft,” the mayor wrote in her update.
Judge Donna Ryu ruled in favor of the lawsuit’s plaintiffs and ordered an injunction on December 23, 2022. Breed announced on Monday that the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals finally clarified the injunction so that the city can now move “voluntarily” unsheltered residents who refuse shelter services.
The term “involuntarily homeless,” and who it applies to, was the subject of debate and court appeals over the last several months.
“Finally, in September 2023, the city received clarification on the definition. Specifically, the court acknowledged that individuals are not involuntarily homeless if they have declined a specific offer of available shelter or otherwise have access to such shelter or the means to obtain it,” Breed wrote.
The case, Coalition on Homelessness v. City and County of San Francisco, still prohibits San Francisco from enforcing laws prohibiting camping against “involuntarily homeless” people while the number of people experiencing homelessness exceeds the number of available shelter beds in the city.
In light of the Ninth Circuit’s clarification, city workers will begin enforcing laws on unsheltered people who refuse to accept shelter services, according to the mayor.
In the first half of 2023, about half of people living on the streets refused to accept shelter when they were approached by city workers, according to city data.
“People who have been offered available shelter should not be allowed to remain out camping on our streets,” the mayor wrote.
Zal Schroff, legal director with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, disagreed with the city’s data. Schroff said, “The idea that unhoused people are refusing shelter in large numbers is completely unfounded and contradicts the evidence submitted to the court.”
Breed blasted homeless activists and other plaintiffs who interfere when city crews are out working.
“Unfortunately, the plaintiffs in this case will still be out interfering with their work. They will film our city workers. They will try to tell our workers what they can and cannot do. These activists are the same people who hand out tents to keep people on the street instead of working to bring them indoors, as we are trying to do. And they are the same people instructing and encouraging people to refuse shelter — to remain on the street instead of going indoors,” the mayor wrote.
San Francisco’s homeless population is estimated at 7,754 people, according to the city’s 2022 Point-In-Time census. Nearly 2,700 of those people were classified as “chronically homeless.”
The Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area and the ACLU of Northern California represent the plaintiffs in Coalition on Homelessness v. City and County of San Francisco.
John Do, senior staff attorney with ACLU, disagreed with some of Breed’s assertions.
Do stated, “The only limitations the city has faced since a federal court injunction was issued last December are against displacing and punishing homeless individuals just because they have nowhere else to go. San Francisco has always been free to enforce any other criminal laws, or to address homeless encampments because of any genuine health and safety concern.”
A trial to resolve the lawsuit is scheduled for October 2024.
The mayor said the city’s priorities moving forward are: “We will work to bring people indoors. We will continue to offer shelter and house people. We will enforce our laws when these offers are refused.”