City Attorney David Chiu

City Attorney issues statement after securing major concessions in homeless encampment lawsuit

Plaintiffs concede during Ninth Circuit oral arguments that injunction does not apply to unhoused people who refuse shelter

SAN FRANCISCO (August 23, 2023) — City Attorney David Chiu issued the following statement after oral arguments in the City’s appeal of the preliminary injunction order in Coalition on Homelessness v. City and County of San Francisco. During argument, Plaintiffs made a surprising and important concession that the lower court preliminary injunction order, which hampers San Francisco’s ability to alleviate homelessness, does not apply to unhoused individuals who refuse shelter.

City Attorney David Chiu
City Attorney David Chiu

“We were pleasantly surprised to receive this major concession from Plaintiffs during oral argument today,” said City Attorney Chiu. “It never made sense that a person who rejected a shelter offer or had a shelter bed but chose to maintain tents on the street should be considered ‘involuntarily homeless.’ We are pleased Plaintiffs agree that enforcement action can be taken against individuals who refuse shelter. I appreciate the thoughtful questions and discussion from the judges today, and look forward to their decision.”

In December 2022, Judge Donna Ryu issued a preliminary injunction that 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.

However, the order did not define “involuntarily homeless,” and Plaintiffs had previously argued that any person experiencing homelessness should be considered involuntarily homeless even if they refused an offer of shelter. This created uncertainty about whether the City could enforce laws against those who refuse shelter or have shelter beds but choose to maintain tents on the street. This is especially problematic as a significant number of unhoused individuals approached by City workers have rejected offers of shelter, particularly after the injunction was issued.

Plaintiffs reversed that position during oral argument today and agreed with the City that enforcement action could be taken against unhoused individuals who refuse offers of shelter.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit heard oral arguments in the appeal this morning. The case is Coalition on Homelessness, et al. v. City and County of San Francisco, et al., U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Case No. 23-15087.