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Politics & Policy

Advocates say San Francisco violated homeless sweeps ban

Department of Public Works employees clear Erie Street of anything they deem to be trash or unaccounted for by a homeless resident of the area, in the alley bordering SoMa and Mission districts, while rain falls during a storm on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

Attorneys for homeless individuals and homelessness advocates filed a motion in court late Friday over San Francisco clearing homeless camps despite a judge’s order temporarily banning the practice.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna Ryu granted an emergency order on Dec. 23 that prohibits city departments from removing tents and taking the belongings of homeless people.

Zal Shroff, lead attorney with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, who represents the plaintiffs, told The Standard that the order means the city cannot perform any more sweeps by throwing away homeless people’s belongings in a manner that does not comply with city policy.

Two employees and a volunteer with the advocacy group Coalition on Homelessness submitted declarations describing sweeps that they witnessed in different parts of the city since the order was issued.

Ian James, the coalition’s organizing director, observed staff from multiple city departments clear a 13-person camp in the Tenderloin on Dec. 27. 

“Of the 13 unhoused individuals present at the site, it appeared that only 4 were successfully connected with shelter,” James said in his statement.

The Coalition on Homelessness, which filed the underlying lawsuit in September with seven unhoused people, alleges that San Francisco violates its policies by clearing out encampments without offering shelter beds and other resources to individuals experiencing homelessness.

However, the city has a significant shortage of shelter beds and permanent supportive housing units in the thousands estimated to cost upward of $1.4 billion to reconcile, according to a recent report.

City Attorney David Chiu filed a motion on Tuesday asking the judge to clarify whether the city can destroy an encampment when someone refuses shelter.

This is a breaking news story.