San Francisco Seeks Clarity After Conflicting Rulings on Homelessness

Conflicting legal decrees on homelessness have put San Francisco officials between a rock and a hard place. 

On the one hand is a 2020 court-approved settlement with UC Hastings (since renamed UC College of the Law, San Francisco), which requires removal of 70% of homeless tents from the Tenderloin. The agreement was forged through a court-issued injunction in June of that year.

On the other hand is a ruling issued by U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna Ryu on Dec. 23. It prohibits removal of homeless individuals from encampments until there is enough housing for every homeless person in the city.

“It is impossible for San Francisco to comply with both injunctions,” City Attorney David Chiu’s office said in a filing last week, which asked the magistrate to clarify her decision. San Francisco wants a clearer definition of ‘involuntary homelessness’ and is seeking permission to remove homeless individuals who have been offered shelter, but declined to accept.

San Francisco is home to some 4,397 unsheltered homeless people. But the city has just 3,050 shelter beds. According to Ryu, removing encampments in a situation like this is a violation of Martin v. Boise, the landmark Ninth Circuit decision that prevented encampment removal for cities with inadequate shelter.

“In Martin, the Ninth Circuit held that ‘so long as there is a greater number of homeless individuals in (a jurisdiction) than the number of available beds (in shelters), the jurisdiction cannot prosecute homeless individuals for involuntarily sitting, lying, and sleeping in public,’” the judge said.

Mayor London Breed argues that most of the people being removed from the streets have refused shelter. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, which is representing the homeless plaintiffs, says that’s not true. 

The next hearing is scheduled for Jan. 12. 

Read more at The San Francisco Chronicle.