A number of homeless people, in conjunction with homeless advocates, brought forth a lawsuit to federal court on Thursday against the City of San Francisco, hoping to stop the city from removing encampments and homeless off public property via an emergency order.
According to the lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Foundation of Northern California, the homeless charge that the city removes them from these areas due to neighborhood complaints, and not to have more help from city services. Charged with displacing the homeless with no real help being given, the suit asks that an emergency order be given to halt all encampment and homeless clearing off public property, or until the city has enough shelter beds to offer. In addition, the suit also asks for a preliminary injunction be placed on the city to correctly bag and tag homeless items taken from camps for the next 90 days if the city continues taking tents and other belongings in sweeps.
The new suit comes only three months after a District Court case by homeless advocates failed to end homeless encampment sweeps. With the practice still in place, and cold winter months approaching, the latest homeless lawsuit is trying to keep the tents up in the city despite open shelter spaces.
In contrast, the city has said that the encampments bring safety and health issues to San Francisco, with tents and encampments only removed once shelter space is offered and declined by those in them.
“San Francisco aims to provide permanent, secure housing to all who need it. We look forward to discussing with the court the city’s services-first approach and the significant investments the city has made to address our homelessness crisis,” the office of City Attorney David Chiu on Thursday.
While the situation plays out in court, many legal experts note that the city has succeeded in the past in similar lawsuits.
“The city clearly has enough shelter space,” explain Carrie Murray, a legal assistant in the Bay area to the Globe on Thursday. “Half the homeless in the city are housed already anyway, and the city keeps opening more and more bed space. Maybe five years ago, when there was one bed available for every 4 unhoused homeless person, this suit would make sense. And yes, there is a percentage of homeless people who refuse bed space out of worry or addiction or some other reason. But, based on the way the city is going and what they offer, homeless advocates are going to have a hard time trying to get this okayed as long as shelter beds keep getting refused.”
Jim Sato, a legal analyst who focuses on homeless issues, added, “The suit ignores how much the city has put towards the homeless issue in recent years. They are basing their argument on faulty logic and ignoring just how many times homeless people turn down shelter beds. As for the storage of personal belongings, the city has laws on how that must be done. The reality is that a lot of planning and resources go into clearing encampments and doing it as humanely as possible.”
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