Judge stops San Francisco officials from clearing homeless camps

ABC News reports that a federal judge has just temporarily banned the city of San Francisco, California, from clearing its homeless encampments. 

Magistrate Judge Donna M. Ryu in U.S. District Court in Oakland issued the temporary ban after finding that the city, in attempting to clear homeless encampments, was essentially violating its own policies.

Background

San Francisco is well-known for its large homeless population, which is estimated at about 7,800 people. From time to time, the city conducts encampment sweeps, and these sweeps are what led to this particular lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed back in September by the Coalition on Homelessness advocacy group and several homeless individuals.

The lawsuit alleges that, by conducting encampment sweets, removing homeless tents, and seizing and destroying homeless people’s belongings, the city of San Francisco has been “punishing residents who have nowhere to go,” violating its own city policies.

Accordingly, the coalition, with the lawsuit, is looking to put an end to these encampment sweeps as well as the enforcement of the city’s quality-of-life laws.

In addition to this, the lawsuit looks to force San Francisco to take the money that it would use on enforcement sweeps and to redirect it to help solve the city’s homelessness problem by, for example, constructing affordable housing.

Ryu shuts it down

While litigation continues, the coalition asked the court to grant a preliminary emergency order to stop the encampment sweeps, and Judge Ryu granted that order on Friday.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports:

[Ryu] pointed to evidence presented by the group of unhoused people and their advocates . . . that San Francisco regularly violated its own policies when clearing encampments. The group cited many instances where authorities cleared people from encampments without offering shelter, which is illegal. She also pointed to evidence of city officials improperly throwing away or seizing homeless people’s belongings, including tents, cell phones, medication, identification and prosthetic limbs.

According to The Epoch Times:

City attorneys have said its policies balance the rights of homeless people with a need to maintain clean and safe public spaces. In court documents, they said homeless people get plenty of notice of upcoming cleanings, receive offers of help and shelter, and are asked to leave an encampment only after declining an offer to stay elsewhere.

Ryu, though, said that she found the city’s defense “wholly unconvincing.”

“The policy isn’t the problem. The question is how is that policy being executed,” Ryu said.

Breed condemns the order

Shortly after Ryu issued the emergency order, San Francisco Mayor London Breed released a statement condemning it.

Breed said:

Mayors cannot run cities this way. We already have too few tools to deal with the mental illness we see on our streets. Now we are being told not to use another tool that helps bring people indoors and keeps our neighborhoods safe and clean for our residents.