City Attorney David Chiu

City responds to baseless allegations in homeless encampment lawsuit

Plaintiffs’ claims that San Francisco is violating the preliminary injunction order fall apart under scrutiny

SAN FRANCISCO (July 7, 2023) — City Attorney David Chiu filed the City’s brief yesterday opposing and refuting Plaintiffs’ motion alleging San Francisco is in violation of the preliminary injunction order in Coalition on Homelessness v. City and County of San Francisco. After a thorough examination, the City found that Plaintiffs’ claims were riddled with falsehoods and irrelevant information that cannot legally support the relief they are seeking.

City Attorney David Chiu
City Attorney David Chiu

“The City has gone to great lengths to comply with the injunction and remains committed to a services-first approach to addressing homelessness,” said City Attorney Chiu. “Instead of working through minor issues with the City, Plaintiffs have spent months unjustifiably painting San Francisco as a violator of people’s rights. Despite the superficial heft of Plaintiffs’ nearly 400-page filing, their factual assertions fall apart under closer examination and demonstrate Plaintiffs’ unwillingness to engage with facts.”

On May 25, Plaintiffs filed a motion alleging the City was in violation of the preliminary injunction order issued by Judge Donna Ryu on December 23, 2022. The injunction requires the City to comply with its own “bag and tag” policy and prohibits San Francisco from enforcing or threatening to enforce discrete 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.

However, many of Plaintiffs’ assertions are either outright false, leave out key details, or lack sufficient information about the date or location of alleged events. In other places, the conduct Plaintiffs complain about is unrelated to the Court’s injunction.

Since the injunction was issued, the Plaintiffs have not identified a single instance of San Francisco citing or arresting someone under any of the enjoined laws. Further, the Healthy Streets and Operations Center (HSOC) has conducted 233 operations during this time period and placed 957 formerly unhoused persons into shelters, hotels, and other forms of housing.

In many instances, Plaintiffs appear unwilling to admit that unhoused people regularly refuse the City’s offers of shelter. For example, one plaintiff has been offered shelter multiple times, including an offer to live in an individual “tiny home” cabin, which is typically considered a preferable shelter placement. But the plaintiff said he would have to check with his lawyers and then eventually refused the shelter space.

Some of the Plaintiffs declarations gloss over the dangerous and often disturbing situations City workers encounter that demonstrate the need for a law enforcement presence at encampment operations. One declarant stated he would not accept shelter unless he could be housed with his “son.” After further investigation, not only was the minor living in the declarant’s tent not his son, the child was not related to him in any way and was a ward of another state. If SFPD officers had not been present during that operation, as Plaintiffs would like, that child would still be living on San Francisco’s streets.

Plaintiffs cite a video to incorrectly claim City employees forced a man from UN Plaza in violation of the injunction, but in reality, City employees were ensuring that the individual, who had been in and out of consciousness and refused their assistance, was responsive, and caught him as he fell backwards toward the curb.

Another declarant said someone told him a City employee had taken his dog, but after a time-consuming search, Animal Care and Control confirmed that no dogs were brought in from his location on or near the date he alleged.

Plaintiffs also claim that the City is violating its bag and tag policy, but these assertions reveal that Plaintiffs either do not understand the policy or are making disingenuous claims. For example, Plaintiffs take issue with the City’s disposal of an abandoned tent on March 3, 2023, but they fail to mention that the tent was soiled with feces and contained hypodermic needles, making it properly discardable under the bag and tag policy.

When City workers encounter items “co-mingled or littered with needles, human waste or other health risks,” they are not required to sort through the health or safety risks and are permitted to dispose of the entire pile of belongings without bagging and tagging any items. Nor would it be safe or practical to ask them to do so. The reality is that many items at encampment resolutions are discardable under the bag and tag policy, which Plaintiffs have admitted is a lawful policy. The City looks forward to setting the record straight in court and continuing to provide compassionate and dedicated care for those most in need.

The City’s full opposition brief can be found here. The case is Coalition on Homelessness v. City and County of San Francisco, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, No. 4:22-cv-05502-DMR.