Special to the Vanguard
San Francisco, CA – On Monday, San Francisco Mayor Breed announced that the City of San Francisco plans to resume “enforcement of laws that we’ve been limited from enforcing for the last nine months.”
In a lengthy statement on Medium, Mayor Breed noted, “We are doing the work and continuing to house and shelter people every day.” But she said, “But despite all of this work, some have attacked us and sued us over our homelessness policies.”
In September 2022, the Coalition on Homelessness and other plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the City regarding the City’s practices related to homeless encampment resolutions.
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.
They sought and received a preliminary injunction that limited enforcement of “laws against sitting, lying, or sleeping on public streets and sidewalks for people who are ‘involuntarily homeless.’”
Breed noted, “This term and who it applies to has been the subject of debate and court appeals over the last several months, and the Court’s lack of clarity and definition has limited the City from enforcing those laws.”
Finally, in September 2023, the City received clarification on the definition of this term from the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.
She explained that “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.”
“People who have been offered available shelter should not be allowed to remain out camping on our streets,” the Mayor explained. “This lawsuit is still pending. The injunction is still in place. Our City Attorney is continuing to fight this in court. So nothing is over and things can change again. But this clarity from the Ninth Circuit is a step in the right direction.”
Attorneys for the Plaintiffs responded to the Mayor’s statement on Monday.
“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,” said John Do, senior staff attorney with ACLU of Northern California.
“Hundreds of people are on a new, growing waitlist for shelter beds right now, with thousands more lacking appropriate options for shelter or housing,” added Zal Schroff, interim legal director with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. “But the City has nonetheless closed its same-day lines for shelter, where hundreds of individuals were turned away each day because of the City’s dearth of available shelter options. The idea that unhoused people are refusing shelter in large numbers is completely unfounded and contradicts the evidence submitted to the court that underpins the injunction.”
“Increased training can be an important step towards compliance, and we hope to see the City taking that issue seriously,” added Do. “The public should understand that monitoring of the City is a critical 1st Amendment right to ensure the City keeps its word, given its proven history of not abiding to the law and its own policies.”