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San Francisco appeals court order banning homeless sweeps, citing ‘impossible situation’

The tent encampment outside the San Francisco Ferry Building was cleared by SFPD and Public Works on June 3, 2022. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu is appealing a court order that temporarily banned sweeps of homeless encampments, saying the injunction created an untenable situation.

Chiu's office filed a notice of appeal in federal court on Monday, sending the matter to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In a statement, Chiu wrote that the order "is unnecessarily broad and has put the City in an impossible situation."

"There are people living on our streets who refuse shelter, and there are those who have secured a shelter bed but still choose to sleep on the streets," said Chiu. "It is unreasonable to tell the City that it is powerless to do anything in those situations."

In a Dec. 23 decision, Judge Donna Ryu ordered the city to stop its practice of clearing homeless encampments in response to a motion by the Coalition on Homelessness, an advocacy group, which alleged that conducting sweeps without offering sufficient shelter violates federal precedent.

Ryu stipulated that the order will remain in effect "as long as there are more homeless individuals in San Francisco than there are shelter beds available." The city attorney pushed back, asking for clarification on whether the city can clear encampments if the occupants refuse shelter. Ryu denied the request for clarification, however.

Ryu's order will remain in effect until the Ninth Circuit takes up the matter.

Filed in September 2022, Coalition on Homelessness' lawsuit accused city agencies of illegally destroying property and violating precedent set in Martin v. Boise, which prohibited cities from enforcing anti-camping laws if there isn’t enough shelter available.

In subsequent legal filings, the coalition accused the city of continuing to unlawfully conduct sweeps. Ryu largely dismissed those claims at a recent hearing, but declined to provide detailed guidance beyond stating that the city may move homeless encampments in order to clean public spaces.