At least a half dozen homeless people are suing the City of San Francisco alleging that they lost thousands of dollars worth of personal property in encampment sweeps.
In a spate of property claims, the people allege that city workers confiscated designer clothes, hygiene products and family heirlooms, among other items, without providing a method for retrieving the property.
Filed through a nonprofit called the Coalition on Homelessness, which is engaged in a related legal battle with the city over its handling of homeless encampments, the claims collectively amount to tens of thousands of dollars in property loss and say that the losses made it more difficult for people to escape homelessness.
One man named Michael Guess is seeking $10,000 for lost items and emotional damage he incurred in March 2022 when the city allegedly swept his encampment without notice. Guess listed his father’s varsity jacket, work tools, a Samsung phone and laptop, and five pairs of Tommy Hilfiger and True Religion pants among the items that were confiscated without any method of retrieval.
“There was no information left for me on how to get any of my belongings back,” Guess said in the claim.
Another person named Jodie Coombs alleged that the city confiscated their 18-inch, 24-karat gold chain, all of their sleeping supplies and a $2,100 electric bike.
“I had to prostitute myself to get money to start again,” Coombs said in the claim. “It was cold and windy. I was terrified because I didn't have any money and I had no shelter.”
Hadley Rood, a racial justice fellow for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, is leading the claims and said in an email that the city has already paid out over $100,000 to unhoused individuals in more than 20 cases.
In the filings, City Attorney David Chiu responded to the claims stating that there is no evidence that the city holds liability for the damages.
Chiu has also pushed back on the Coalition on Homelessness’s lawsuit and is appealing a Dec. 23 injunction issued by federal Judge Donna Ryu that banned the city from enforcing laws that prohibit people from sitting or lying in public.
In the city’s notice of appeal, Chiu said that ruling would make it impossible to contain homeless encampments.
“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,” Chiu said in a statement at the time. “It is unreasonable to tell the City that it is powerless to do anything in those situations.”
A recent report found that the city is $1.4 billion worth of permanent housing and shelter units short of ending unsheltered homelessness locally.
Lead attorney for the Coalition on Homelessness lawsuit, Zal Shroff, has said that the lawsuit aims to incentivize the city to build more affordable housing, which advocates argue is the solution to the crisis.
David Sjostedt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org