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Lawsuit: Urban Alchemy workers at homeless camp dealt drugs, had sex with residents

A former Sausalito homeless camp resident claims the San Francisco nonprofit’s employees ran the camp like a gang.

A person wearing a red cap and black jacket walks on a path through a crowded campsite with numerous tents, tarps, and scattered belongings on a grassy field.
A person walks through a homeless encampment in Marinship Park in Sausalito in 2021. | Source: Ethan Swope

A former homeless camp resident says he was assaulted by staffers of non-profit contractor Urban Alchemy, according to a state lawsuit kicked up to federal court this week. The resident also accused the workers of dealing drugs and having sex with others who lived at the Sausalito site. 

Arthur Bruce, a former resident of a now-shut homeless camp in Sausalito, alleges that a “criminal syndicate within Urban Alchemy” engaged in the “trafficking of crystal meth at the camp.” Workers also had sexual relationships with several residents who they had the power to evict, according to Bruce.

He is seeking unspecified damages for being physically retaliated against and evicted by Urban Alchemy, which was working on behalf of the city. The suit alleges that the non-profit was negligent in hiring former criminals who were likely to break the law and seeks an injunction preventing the accused employees from working in similar roles.

Urban Alchemy has been awarded huge contracts by San Francisco to provide street security in the Tenderloin, but the nonprofit has also been the subject of numerous lawsuits and misconduct allegations. The organization is part of a growing industry of private companies paid to keep watch over and run homeless encampments across the state—many of which have reports of abuse and mismanagement.

A marina with houseboats in the foreground and a city skyline in the background under a clear blue sky.
A former resident of a shuttered homeless camp in Sausalito has leveled a number of accusations against Urban Alchemy. | Source: Noah Berger for The Standard

Bruce’s Feb. 8 lawsuit, which he filed without a lawyer, came after he said he was allegedly assaulted and hospitalized in February 2022 by an Urban Alchemy employee, who “slammed” him onto the concrete in retaliation for speaking to the media about the issues inside the camp. He claims he suffered a sprained wrist. 

Bruce said Urban Alchemy later kicked him out of the camp for speaking up about their behavior. 

In a statement, Urban Alchemy said the lawsuit was frivolous and predicated on racial bias aimed at many of its Black employees. 

“Unfortunately, people and organizations bring and make frivolous allegations and lawsuits against us,” spokesperson Kirkpatrick Tyler said. “When we make a mistake, we own it. But we will never let people or organizations try to shake us down or extort us. We will always vigorously defend ourselves and our organization when we are in the right because our people are doing hard work, so we will work hard to protect them.”

Bruce did not respond to multiple calls from The Standard.

The company has said in past statements that fraternizing with residents is against its policy, as is drug and alcohol use. 

Urban Alchemy is known for hiring people with criminal histories, contending that people who have spent time in jail or on the streets are best equipped to compassionately de-escalate potentially violent situations.

Bruce’s lawsuit is the latest allegation of misconduct inside the San Francisco nonprofit, which has taken on a large role in the form of contracts worth tens of millions with the city to help make the Tenderloin a safer neighborhood. In the past, the organization also ran several city-sanctioned homeless camps. 

Three workers in safety vests, carrying shovels and gear, are in a narrow alley. A "DEAD END" sign is visible. Two people carrying bags are entering through a gate.
Urban Alchemy employees pick up trash in San Francisco's Tenderloin. | Source: Melina Mara/The Washington Post /Getty Images

​​Earlier this year two lawsuits alleged that an Urban Alchemy supervisor launched a campaign of sexual harassment against two women employees at the nonprofit.

The case was moved from Marin County Superior Court after Urban Alchemy’s attorneys successfully argued that the Northern District of California has jurisdiction over it as it contends with federal civil rights law.

In the suit, Bruce said several residents went on the record about seeing drug dealing, and he claims that the Urban Alchemy employees “would cover for one another and alert one another if police or outsiders were nearby to prevent them from being discovered selling meth or using it with residents of the camp.”

According to the suit, two Urban Alchemy workers were eventually issued restraining orders by a federal judge after several women alleged they were sexually assaulted and the victims of stalking.

One employee “retaliated against a resident he had sexual relations with,” said the suit. When that resident tried to take her belongings after being evicted from the camp, he allegedly attacked her, the suit said.

The camp in Sausalito was shuttered in August 2022 after the city came to an agreement with its residents, leading to an almost $500,000 payout to help them find permanent housing.

Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at