San Francisco Chronicle

Lawsuit over homeless sweeps on hold

- By Bob Egelko Reach Bob Egelko: begelko @sfchronicl­e.com; Twitter: @BobEgelko

The federal magistrate who has limited how San Francisco moves homeless people from city streets granted the city’s request Friday to put the case on hold until the Supreme Court decides, in a separate case, whether people can be removed from street camps without an offer of immediate shelter.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna Ryu issued an injunction in December 2022 barring San Francisco and its police from removing thousands of unhoused people from street encampment­s until it gives them somewhere else to live, and from destroying their personal belongings. That order remains in effect, although it could be changed or even dissolved after the Supreme Court decides a similar case from Grants Pass, Ore. That ruling is due by the end of June. Friday’s order delays further proceeding­s in the San Francisco case until 30 days after the Supreme Court ruling and postpones a trial, which would determine whether the city has violated the rights of the homeless, from this October until May 2025.

Currently, with 72 hours notice, the city can clear streets only for access, whether that’s for fire and police personnel in the event of an emergency or for compliance with disability laws, leaving enough space on the sidewalk for a wheelchair to pass.

San Francisco officials say they offer shelter and services before conducting sweeps. But Ryu said in her injunction that the city’s shelters were full and had closed their waiting lists. Meanwhile, city officials must continue to give advance notice of any plans to clean the camps or to seek to move their

residents, and provide informatio­n on arrests of the homeless and treatment of their personal property.

Advocates for the homeless had sought additional disclosure­s from the city in upcoming months, but Ryu said her injunction provides adequate protection and any further actions should be postponed until the high court addresses the legal issues.

Her decision “spares the City from wasting public resources litigating this case when the entire legal landscape may soon change,” City Attorney David Chiu said in a statement. “While this case is paused, San Francisco will continue to follow the preliminar­y injunction order and work hard to alleviate homelessne­ss throughout the City.”

But a lawyer for the Coalition on Homelessne­ss, which filed the suit, said many issues in the case, such as the city’s “confiscati­on and destructio­n of unhoused people’s property,” would not be affected by the Supreme Court ruling.

“We will be prepared this summer to continue our litigation and ensure that the City does not waste more tax dollars on dehumanizi­ng unhoused people with costly and ineffectiv­e practices that will make it harder for people to exit homelessne­ss,” said Nisha Kashyap of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a case from Boise, Idaho, in 2018 that local government­s can’t criminally punish people for sleeping on a street or sidewalk when no shelters are available. The Supreme Court denied review of the city’s appeal, leaving the ruling as a binding precedent for federal courts in California and eight other Western states.

The 9th Circuit reaffirmed that ruling in the Grants Pass case in September 2022 and said cities also could not punish the homeless for using blankets and pillows to protect themselves from the elements when they have nowhere

else to go. But last month the high court, with its increased conservati­ve majority, agreed to review an appeal by Grants Pass that was supported by Gov. Gavin Newsom, leaders in 20 other states and numerous local government­s, including San Francisco’s.

“Encampment­s are dangerous,” Newsom’s lawyers told the court, and the appeals court decision is preventing local government­s “from imposing common-sense time and place restrictio­ns to keep streets safe and to move those experienci­ng homelessne­ss into shelter.”

In response, Zal Shroff, a lawyer for the Coalition on Homelessne­ss and acting legal director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, said California “needs to address the homelessne­ss crisis by providing real access to affordable housing and shelter” and not by “making it illegal to be homeless.”

 ?? Stephen Lam/The Chronicle ?? Workers remove debris from an encampment in San Francisco. The Supreme Court is expected to decide an Oregon case involving the removal of unhoused people.
Stephen Lam/The Chronicle Workers remove debris from an encampment in San Francisco. The Supreme Court is expected to decide an Oregon case involving the removal of unhoused people.

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