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Homeless sweeps temporarily banned

Tents line a sidewalk on O'Farrell Street in the Tenderloin District. | Benjamin Fanjoy for The Standard | Source: Benjamin Fanjoy for The Standard

The clearing of homeless camps in San Francisco was temporarily halted by an emergency order from a federal judge Friday night.

The decision from U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna Ryu comes amid a lawsuit from plaintiffs—including the Coalition on Homelessness and several homeless people—alleging that the the city is violating the U.S. Constitution and city policy by clearing encampments when there are not enough available shelter beds and destroying property including tents and medication during those sweeps.

The city had previously argued that it is not in violation of the laws because it offers shelter beds to people prior to sweeps taking place, and that the city “reasonably preserves the possessions” of unhoused people.

Zal Shroff, lead attorney with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, who represents the plaintiffs, said the statues prohibited under the preliminary injunction are those that "the city uses to punish sleeping outside, lounging outside or refusing to follow an order from a cop to not sleep or lounge outside."

Shroff added that the order means that the city cannot continue throwing away homeless people's belongings in a manner that does not comply with city policy. Plaintiffs allege that the city throws away property during sweeps even when its owners are present.

"The order says you have to follow your own policy, you can't throw people's stuff out," Shroff said.

The city's bag-and-tag policy requires the city to label and store property for a certain amount of time before disposal so homeless people have a chance to reclaim their things.

Shroff said that the lawsuit is about much more than barring sweeps and preserving property, saying it's about the treatment of homeless people writ large.

"The case is about SF criminalizing homelessness; it's not about encampments. It's about ending the unconstitutional treatment of homeless people for bogus reasons," Shroff said. "The city is all about removing visual signs of homelessness at any cost."

Garrett Leahy can be reached at