City Attorney David Chiu

San Francisco will appeal injunction in homeless encampment lawsuit

Lower court order puts the City in an untenable situation and reaches far beyond legal precedent

SAN FRANCISCO (January 23, 2023) — City Attorney David Chiu filed a Notice of Appeal today, appealing Judge Donna Ryu’s order in Coalition on Homelessness v. City and County of San Francisco to the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. The preliminary injunction order issued on December 23 prohibits San Francisco from enforcing or threatening to enforce certain laws prohibiting public lodging or camping against “involuntarily homeless individuals” as long as the number of people experiencing homelessness exceeds the number of available shelter beds.

City Attorney David Chiu
City Attorney David Chiu

The injunction sweeps broadly and exceeds the bounds of existing Ninth Circuit precedent set in Johnson v. Grants Pass and Martin v. Boise.

The City previously asked Judge Ryu to clarify the preliminary injunction order, particularly with regard to the meaning of “involuntarily homeless.” However, the Court declined to provide clarification. The lack of clarity around this term puts the City in a difficult situation, especially in navigating interactions with those who refuse shelter or those who have shelter beds but choose to also maintain tents on the street.

In addition to the practical implications, Judge Ryu’s order potentially conflicts with another federal court order that the City is subject to in Hastings College of the Law v. City and County of San Francisco. In that stipulated injunction, the Court mandated San Francisco conduct enhanced enforcement in the Tenderloin against individuals who have refused shelter offers in order to prevent re-encampment.

City Attorney Chiu released the following statement on the City’s decision to appeal:

“The Court’s order is unnecessarily broad and has put the City in an impossible situation. The order strains our ability to meet our practical and legal obligations.

There are people living on our streets who refuse shelter, and there are those who have secured a shelter bed but still choose to sleep on the streets. It is unreasonable to tell the City that it is  powerless to do anything in those situations.

We tried to seek clarity on the scope of this injunction, but the Court declined to provide that. Unfortunately, we have no choice but to appeal this decision.

Homelessness is a nationwide problem that no major city in the United States has solved. San Francisco has made substantial investments in permanent supportive housing, shelter, and services. The City engages, shelters, and houses tens of thousands of people each year.

We hope that the Court will recognize these significant efforts and the need to balance both addressing homelessness with services and shelter with maintaining healthy and safe streets.”

The Notice of Appeal can be found here. The City has until February 20, 2023, to file its opening brief on appeal.