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San Francisco accused of failing to train workers who clear homeless camps

Crews from San Francisco Public Works conduct a homeless encampment sweep of unhoused people living in tents along Division St. on June 22, 2023. | Source: Michaela Neville/The Standard

Plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit against San Francisco are accusing the city of failing to adequately train workers who interact with homeless people and clear tent encampments.

Attorneys for the nonprofit Coalition on Homelessness and other individuals represented in the lawsuit say the only formal training San Francisco uses is a 30-minute PowerPoint presentation that “does not mention the court’s injunction or meaningfully explain the procedures the city must follow when handling unhoused residents’ belongings,” according to a brief plaintiffs filed on Friday.

READ MORE: What To Know About San Francisco’s Messy Legal Battle Over Homeless Encampment Sweeps

Additionally, the brief says those informal trainings don’t appear to have taught workers how to properly serve notice when clearing encampments, what items should be discarded or stored, how to distinguish between abandoned and unattended property and procedures for homeless people to reclaim their belongings.

City officials dismissed the coalition’s claims, saying the plaintiffs misconstrued information about the trainings to make them seem inadequate.

“Plaintiffs are once again using routine filings and good-faith attempts by the city to be transparent in order to make dramatic and unsupported accusations,” Jen Kwart, a spokesperson for the City Attorney’s Office told The Standard in an email.

According to an ACLU Northern California press release about the nonprofit coalition’s new allegations, sign-in sheets show that from November 2022 to August 2023 only 57 our of 1,800 San Francisco Department of Public Works employees had attended one of the informal training sessions.

“San Francisco has once again demonstrated that it has taken effectively no real steps to follow its own sound policies for how to address street homelessness,” said Zal K. Shroff, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs. “The city’s abject failure to adequately train its staff is making San Francisco’s homeless problem worse. It’s time for Mayor [London] Breed and the city to get serious about complying with the court’s order.”

The brief also alleged that lack of training given to workers has contributed to failures to abide by the court’s injunction and continued “bag and tag” policy and mishandling of unhoused people’s property.

READ MORE: San Francisco Accuses Homelessness Nonprofit of Backtracking in Sweeps Lawsuit

Kwart batted away the claims as disingenuous.

“It seems plaintiffs either did not understand or took issue with what the court asked the city to do,” she added. “Our filing clearly demonstrates that the city has trained and continues to train employees interacting with unhoused individuals in compliance with the city’s policies and the preliminary injunction.”

The trial in the federal lawsuit is scheduled to begin on April 15.