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San Francisco blasts accusations of illegal homeless encampment sweeps

tents are seen along a sidewalk
A Department of Public Works cleaning truck waits near a homeless encampment on Larch Street in San Francisco. | Source: Joe Dworetzky/Bay City News Foundation

The City of San Francisco fired back this week against accusations from advocates for homeless people that it has continued to conduct large-scale sweeps of encampments and failed to provide them with immediate shelter in violation of an injunction from a federal magistrate.

In the latest salvo in the ongoing legal battle over the way San Francisco officials have handled the homelessness crisis, City Attorney David Chiu described the charges as “riddled with falsehoods and irrelevant information.”

“Plaintiffs have spent months unjustifiably painting San Francisco as a violator of people’s rights,” wrote Chiu in a legal brief filed Thursday. 

The controversial injunction was handed down last December by U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna Ryu in response to a lawsuit filed by the Coalition on Homelessness and others accusing the city of breaking the law and destroying property as part of its encampment sweeps. 

The order temporarily restricted city agencies from enforcing local laws barring sitting, lying or sleeping on public property. City workers could still ask people to move under a narrow and vague set of circumstances, including street cleaning and safety issues, and the ruling doesn’t bar the city from enforcing other laws unrelated to lodging on the street.

The city has tried unsuccessfully to overturn the injunction. In the meantime, unhoused advocates argued in a nearly 400-page filing last May that officials have “persisted in routinely criminalizing homeless individuals who have no access to shelter.” 

But Chiu said in this week’s brief that the city’s Healthy Streets and Operations Center had conducted 233 operations since the injunction and “placed 957 unhoused persons into shelters, hotels and other forms of housing.” 

He further argued that homeless people living on the streets often decline offers of shelter or make what he termed unreasonable demands to be housed with friends or pets. In another instance, he asserted, city workers had been unfairly accused of forcibly removing a man from a Downtown sidewalk when they were actually trying to help the man, who was stumbling and “in and out of consciousness.” 

“Another declarant said someone told him a City employee had taken his dog, but after a time-consuming search, Animal Care and Control confirmed that no dogs were brought in from his location on or near the date he alleged,” wrote the city attorney. 

He concluded: “The city looks forward to setting the record straight in court and continuing to provide dedicated and compassionate care for those most in need.”  

Rachel Scheier can be reached at

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