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Police Clear Homeless Encampment Days After Mayor’s Tweet, Prompting Questions About Legality of Such Sweeps
Monday, July 04, 2022

Police Clear Homeless Encampment Days After Mayor’s Tweet, Prompting Questions About Legality of Such Sweeps

The sound of a trash truck chewing up tents and other items that belonged to unhoused people camping along The Embarcadero nearly drowned out the explanation of an SFPD officer who told The Standard on Friday that they were acting in accordance with the city law. 

Stephen Collins, a veteran cop, said he was able to determine the property was abandoned thanks to cross referencing past footage from his body camera, which allowed him and members of the Department of Public Works to destroy the items.

“This stuff hasn’t moved in four days,” Collins said moments before two city workers disposed of a tent that had been occupied by an unhoused woman an hour earlier.

The “sweep” occurred just 72 hours after San Francisco Mayor London Breed responded to a pseudonymous Twitter user asking her to “do something” about people in tents outside the ferry building.

Department of Public Works employees, who wished not to be identified, throw away items from the tent encampment outside the San Francisco Ferry Building in San Francisco, Calif., Friday, June 3, 2022. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

From Tweet to Sweep

This wasn’t the first time a passing request from the mayor led to police rousting unhoused people from their camp site. 

Text messages unearthed by a records request in 2020 showed that Breed—despite denying that the city “sweeps” homeless encampments—routinely asked SFPD to disband groups of unhoused people throughout the city.

What surprised advocates and the unhoused people targeted by Friday’s sweep was that she did it so openly, on a public platform, after getting into hot water over the issue just two years ago. Breed’s informal directive prompted questions about the legality of evicting a camp in a city with a more-than-maxed-out shelter capacity.

And it drew plenty of ire from advocates for the homeless.

“When it comes to responsibility it all lands back on the mayor. She’s the boss,” said Kelley Cutler, a human rights organizer for the Coalition on Homelessness. “Everyone was aware that the city was starting to engage, so there was no excuse for SFPD and DPW to be there [Friday] morning.”

‘Do Something’

It started with a May 31 tweet in which Breed touted her five-year plan to “create real long-term change” by ending transgender homelessness in the city. A Twitter user with fewer than 300 followers replied to ask the mayor to “do something” about “all the tents on The Embarcadero in front of the Ferry Building.”

“Many new tents were set up this weekend,” @wasnakedborn tweeted.

Breed promptly responded, tagging the city’s public complaint hotline: “@SF311 can we send someone out there this week.”

Not 72 hours later, two SFPD officers joined staff from the Department of Public Works at the Embarcadero to disband the encampment. A reporter and photographer from The Standard happened to show up in time to witness the sweep.

Of the people who showed up in time to retrieve their belongings, many said they planned to just move to a sideway a few blocks away. Jesse Beasley, who said she’s been in and out of housing in San Francisco for the past 28 years, said she wasn’t living outside by choice.

“They’re out their damn mind if they think we’re not trying to do something about our situation,” she said. “You either die, get put in a shelter or put in jail.”

When reached for comment, Breed’s spokesperson said the area was “first reported by other city agencies” as part of “routine field outreach operations.”

Jesse Beasley talks to her neighbors at their tent encampment outside the San Francisco Ferry Building in San Francisco, Calif., the morning of Friday, June 3, 2022. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

Advocates say that on the face of it, Friday’s sweep appeared to violate the city’s own policies—and legal precedent restricting such enforcement by local governments. 

Case law set in Martin V. Boise prohibits cities and counties from enforcing anti-camping ordinances unless there are shelter beds available to accommodate anyone upended by such actions. According to a public dashboard, the city’s emergency shelter system is currently 170 people over its capacity. 

Regardless, no members of the city’s homeless outreach teams showed up to offer shelter or other resources when city officials began dismantling the encampment early Friday. Stephen Collins, an SFPD officer at the scene, told The Standard that he was enforcing an ordinance that prevents people from sitting or lying down for extended periods of time in public spaces. 

What Else is Being Done About Encampments?

Homeless advocates have been raising alarm about encampment sweeps or “resolutions,” as the city calls them, for years. 

See Also

“It’s a complaint-driven system,” Cutler said. “Oftentimes, they’re taking their belongings and people have to start completely over when they’re already just barely hanging on.”

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

During a December press conference declaring a state of emergency in the Tenderloin neighborhood, Breed said the city would begin using every law on the books to get people off the streets. Since then, the number of encampments in the Tenderloin has decreased while the number of tents citywide has grown. 

Supervisor Rafael Mandelman has been pushing legislation to force the city to provide shelter for all of its unhoused residents stating that the streets can “no longer be the waiting room” for permanent housing. Mandelman told The Standard, after being informed of Friday’s sweep, that the situation provided grounds for his legislation. 

“I think it’s totally unacceptable to be camping there,” Mandelman said, “but we also need to have other options to offer people.”

The mayor’s proposed budget for homelessness in the 2023 fiscal year allocates $32 million in new investments toward 480 non-congregate shelter beds. City supervisors will begin negotiating the budget proposal in a committee on June 16.

Though many homeless advocates say that Mandelman’s legislation and investments into shelter units, while important as a temporary emergency solution, are inadequate for many unhoused people. They argue that placing unhoused people in shelter is a workaround to Martin V. Boise that simply places low-income people out of sight.

“It feels like you’re in prison,” Beasley said. “Everyone that I know wouldn’t stay in a shelter.”

Clinton Thompson, an unhoused man who said that he would just move down the waterfront after Friday’s sweep, said he understands why the city doesn’t want him camping in front of the Ferry Building. But he said he couldn’t understand where he should go. 

Thompson said he’s constantly migrating around the city as soon as someone complains about his tent. “They move us from one side of the street to the other,” he lamented, “and then come on another day to move us from that side of the street back to the other.”

David Sjostedt can be reached at [email protected].
  • David, why didn’t you reach out to me about my request? I’ve communicated with your chief editor and CEO before, so I’m really surprised that you would write an article without trying to communicate with me.

  • Is it legal? I don’t know. I’m not a lawyer. But I think any self-respecting and sensible city is within its right to sweep homeless encampments. What happened to common sense?

  • If we need more shelter beds, in order to store homeless, let’s build more shelter beds. Let’s provide essential medical services, psyche evaluation, drug treatment, toilets & a hot meal.
    But you can’t sleep & (use) on the street!

  • From what it sounds like, there was an abandoned amount of items left on what I assume is Port of San Francisco property and it was removed since no one claimed it for some time. As for the other people who were there, it sounds like none of their personal property was taken and they were just told to obey the voter enacted “sit-lie” law. Doesn’t seem like a real big story, but more like fishing for something that is not there, doesn’t it?

  • Good. Stop letting the Homeless Industrial Complex make decisions that affect the whole city.

    Working people can’t afford to live on the Embarcadero. Why do non-working people claim that privilege?

    There is plenty of affordable housing in Texas. Jobs too. Speaking of which, there are help-wanted signs all over this city.

    We don’t have to support every homeless person who hasn’t done anything to support themselves.

  • Whoa, who are you to make such a demand? Journalists write what they and their editors decide, not what you decide.

  • Not sure it’s the press’s responsibility to figure out that you sometimes make up English translations of the name you usually use to rant, and then to contact you as if you are a meaningful source of “information” or “opinion.”

  • Abandoned trash was cleared from our streets. What make it seem like it seem like something that it wasn’t? More of this should be done citywide. We need to respect this city with the respect that it deserves and not treat it like a dump.

  • Let’s talk about the “homeless, inc people
    for a minute. I’ve experienced it. We had a criminal bike chop shop operating 24/7 for a year. Screaming fights, a stabbing, loud music all night so nobody could sleep. Video after video of illegal activity. Just wild. Even wilder? The roadblocks these rich kid “observers” put up against clearing these dregs from our neighborhood. The homeless lobby in this city should be defunded. Under their watch everything has gotten exponentially worse. Their lingo is fraudulent. Everything about them is a fraudulent pose. And every day their obstructionism continues to be funded, the situation gets worse. Go away.

  • It is nice that the Ferry Building was able to be cleared. The Ferry Building is of course a major shopping destination and businesses are affected by the presence of tents etc. Unfortunately, those of us in residential areas do not get that level of attention when we ask for an encampment clearing. In the meantime, we are forced to deal with blocked sidewalks, human feces, garbage and the sight of adults shooting up or smoking their drugs.

    I hope that the SF BOS will support the Mayor’s effort to create shelter, current conditions are not acceptable.

  • Since The Standard is fun by a major recall funder, I tend to view the articles as propaganda for something that San Franciscans normally wouldn’t want to do. Condemning clearing or moving peoples tents and belongings normally isn’t the beginning of the conversation with the tent dwellers.
    The mayor needs to maintain order in our public spaces. Sidewalks must remain ADA accessible. People who don’t want to move into housing don’t automatically have the right to set up a tent anywhere they want. I hope the mayor is using the tough love approach that has been missing for a couple decades.
    I really hope the Standard owner and his republican friends aren’t going after the mayor. These fearmongering campaigns are exhausting and create more feelings of danger than actually exists.

  • Thank you Mayor Breed for helping to protect all of us from the Homeless Industrial Complex and the homeless criminals migrating here and destroying our City. NO homeless criminal has a right to commit crimes such as murder, violation of our sit-lie laws, rape, illegal camping, stealing, littering, polluting our environment, or blocking public property. We need a zero tolerance police for the homeless who come here to steal and destroy our lives and property. No exceptions. Remember that not even 1% of these homeless criminals are from San Francisco and not even 10% have any connection or ties to California.

  • Thank you. As a native, I feel our city has become an embarrassment. As recently as 10 years ago when I’d travel people would say “wow, San Francisco, you’re lucky–what a beautiful place to live.” Now, they’re “OMG why do you live there?” Time to take back the city from these vagrants and send them on their way.

  • Every weekend my wife and I spend hours cleaning up piles of garbage on our neighborhood’s streets. And within 24-hours our local homeless population has generated another mountain of litter, human waste, and cast-offs from what appears to be a roving chop shop from dismantled scooters and city bikes. I’m at my wit’s end and hope that after today’s election results Mayor Breed and other supes will read the room and accelerate the cleanup of our city.

  • Whoop,. Most of you and your comment need to be checked!
    First…what makes anyone believe that homeless people don’t have jobs? A lot of the homeless population in SF do have jobs. Just not ones that allow them to rent, gas, electric, phone, health insurance, daycare, diapers, food, clothing and hope that maybe they’ll have a little left over for a stick of bubble gum!
    I’ve been on that homeless side of SF . 8 long years living in a tent , on the cold asess streets.
    Many times DPW and SFPD would come every morning and make us load up and move again.
    The moving from across the street to to across the other street is because that what the cops would tell us to do. That way we’re not in their jurisdiction anymore ,meaning not their problem. Until we move back . DPWs idea of abandoned property is 5 MINUTES! That’s what they them selfs have told many of us.
    It’s a complete joke…! SF is the only place in the USA, besides Honolulu Hawaii that gives general assistance ( cash money plus Food stamps) to people without dependent children.
    I thank God I’m not on the streets anymore, but I’m just a paycheck away from it happening again..just like you.
    I’m pretty sure that Purgatory is just around the corner for most of our government employees.
    That puts my mind at ease, because I know I’m bound for heaven cause I’ve done my time in hell.

  • To clarify a few points:
    Pre COVID G.A. workfare requirements were 3 hours x 2 x number of weeks in the month. This ment working 48 hours per month for 59.00 cash plus the Muni bus pass which amounted to 2.49 per hour. Who except those who needed the cash would work for less than minimum wage?

    The screening (interview) for GA which is been ( in my experience) condescending, judgemental, and highly insulting.

    SNAP food stamps benefit does not have to be worked for and varies in amount depending upon your income. There is a penalty for selling the benefit for cash.

  • Addendum:
    As those who are “tent dwellers” are squatters who do not pay rent and as such do not have a legal right to live what is an alternative style; why not pass laws regulating their presence on public streets?

    Using the models of motor vehicle regulations :

    1.No person or persons shall block public access walkways.
    1a. 1st and 2nd times a warning shall be given . 3nd time offense- a citation shall be issued.

    2. Tent occupation on the sidewalks shall be limited to a maximum of 48 hours after which the occupants will be obligated to remove 1 mile from their current location.
    2a. 1st and 2nd times a warning shall be given . 3nd time offense- a citation shall be issued.

    1a and 2a. Citations which have been let to warrant shall be placed upon public record which may render the violator ineligible for public assistance including housing , and cash assistance .

    3. Where the “owner” has left their belongings unattended for 4 hours which items shall be considered abandoned.
    3a. Abandoned property shall be subject to removal and storage at the owners expense. If the storage fees are not paid within 7 days, the owner shall relinquish the items for public disposal.

    While some people would argue that people should not be subject to societal rules and regulations. Being part of society obligates one to do so.

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