Skip to main content

San Francisco homeless lawsuit appears headed to trial

Clinton Thompson packs up and throws away his items under the supervision of SFPD and Public Works the morning of Friday, June 3, 2022, outside the San Francisco Ferry Building in San Francisco. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

A lawsuit accusing San Francisco of subjecting homeless people to cruel and unusual punishment is headed for an eight-day bench trial set for next April, a federal judge said on Thursday. 

Filed by the Coalition on Homelessness, the lawsuit alleges that multiple city agencies violated federal precedent by removing homeless encampments without providing shelter for the occupants. 

At a hearing on Thursday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna Ryu set a trial date of April 15, 2024.

She also broadly declined to provide clarification on her previous order temporarily banning the city from removing encampments, and dismissed claims from homeless advocates who allege that the city has already violated that order

Ryu did specify that the city is permitted to temporarily move homeless encampments in order to clean public spaces. But she also called the city’s practice of having police officers accompany outreach workers as “a reasonably perceived threat.”

“Do individuals understand that moving is voluntary, in light of the fact that there's a significant police presence?” Ryu said. “There's some unrebutted evidence that there are some affected unhoused individuals who felt like they had to move and that they couldn't come back.”

A recent report found that the city is 3,810 units of permanent housing and 2,250 shelter units short of ending unsheltered homelessness locally–a deficit that would cost $1.4 billion to reconcile. The lawsuit aims to push the city to build more affordable housing, which advocates contend is the solution to the crisis.

City Attorney David Chiu pushed back on the judge's ban on encampment sweeps, saying it put the city in an “impossible situation” given that some occupants may refuse available shelter. 

“The City was hoping to get the clarification it needs on the injunction in order to meet our obligations under the Hastings injunction and assess our appellate options. Unfortunately, the Court declined to provide that guidance, and we are now evaluating all potential next steps,” said City Attorney spokesperson Jen Kwart in a statement.

David Sjostedt can be reached at