SAN FRANCISCO (HPD) — A federal judge temporarily blocked San Francisco authorities from evicting homeless encampments, saying the city violated its own regulations by failing to find alternative shelters for those affected.
US District Judge Donna M. Ryu of Oakland granted an emergency order filed Friday night that prevents city officials from dismantling the tents and seizing homeless belongings, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
The decision comes in response to a lawsuit filed by the homeless, which seeks to prevent the municipality from dismantling the encampments until it obtains thousands of beds in alternate shelters.
Ryu cited evidence presented by the plaintiffs that the municipality regularly and illegally failed to offer alternative shelter to the camp dwellers before evicting them and taking their property, including cell phones, medicines, identity documents and even prosthetics.
The city’s arguments “are totally unconvincing,” the judge declared.
In a statement, Mayor London Breed condemned the decision.
“Mayors cannot run their cities this way,” the mayor said. “We already have too few tools to deal with the cases of mental illness we see on our streets. Now we are being told that we cannot use another tool that helps bring people indoors and keeps our neighborhoods safe and clean for our residents.”
Breed added that many of the people “are refusing assistance or already have shelter” and that they use the camps only to “sell drugs, human trafficking and other illegal activities.”
City attorneys insist that current policies balance the rights of homeless people with the community’s need for clean and accessible public spaces. In court documents, they said the homeless receive ample notice of eviction operations, receive offers of help and shelter and are asked to leave the camp only after they reject offers to stay elsewhere.
But the judge showed evidence provided by the Coalition of the Homeless and seven plaintiffs, including academic analysis and detailed witness statements from numerous evictions in the past three years, that homeless people were deprived of personal items and evicted without another place to go.
“Politics is not the problem,” Ryu said in a virtual hearing on Thursday. “The question is how that policy is being executed.”
There are an estimated 7,800 homeless people in San Francisco and the city has acknowledged that it is short of thousands of available temporary or permanent beds.
There were 34 beds available as of Friday, according to Zal K. Shroff, lead attorney with the San Francisco Bay Area Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, one of several legal organizations representing the coalition.
The lawsuit is among several pending lawsuits in western states where visible homelessness has increased amid a shortage of shelter beds and affordable housing.
Last week, a federal judge issued an emergency injunction to prevent the city of Phoenix from conducting raids on a downtown homeless encampment, in response to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Arizona. Authorities can’t enforce camping bans on anyone who can’t get a shelter bed, and can only seize property that is illegal or poses a threat.
The ACLU of New Mexico and other organizations sued the city of Albuquerque this week, alleging that authorities are destroying encampments and criminalizing people for homelessness.