Hundreds rally for judges to remove injunction blocking SF from clearing homeless encampments

Thursday, August 24, 2023
Hundreds rally in court battle over clearing SF encampments
The issue of homelessness in San Francisco went before three federal judges on Wednesday.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The issue of homelessness in San Francisco went before three federal judges on Wednesday morning.

City officials are appealing an order that temporarily blocks them from clearing homeless encampments.

However, before the city battled in court, hundreds showed up for a rally over removal efforts.

RELATED: Federal judges to hear San Francisco's appeal regarding encampment removal

The issue is certainly divisive. Even those who showed up at the early rally were split with an overwhelming majority of hundreds throwing their support behind the city. They want the injunction lifted, demanding safer streets.

"The fact that the courts have crippled our ability to do our job to help get people into shelter is criminal. If we have a place for someone to go. They need to go. There has to be accountability," San Francisco Mayor London Breed.

Dozens of others want the injunction to stay in place.

The Coalition on Homelessness and their attorneys say encampment sweeps are not the answer.

"What we are trying to do with this lawsuit is get the city to stop abusing people's basic rights. We are trying to get them to stop illegally confiscating property and criminalizing them when they have no choice but to be on the streets," said Jennifer Friedenbach, Executive Director of the Coalition on Homelessness.

As it stands, the order is currently keeping the city from clearing encampments as long as the number of people experiencing homelessness is greater than the number of available shelter beds.

Here's where there's disagreement- the city says those on the street won't take the help and are refusing shelter.

"The challenge with the court's order is that it has created an impossible situation for us to implement and the order has been so vague that it's been very difficult for us to figure out where they hit the mark," San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu.

VIDEO: SF crews making a difference cleaning homeless encampments, but here's what's slowing them down

Members of the SF Department of Emergency Management helping the homeless say they've sheltered over a thousand people in 2023, but have run into roadblocks preventing them from doing more.

However, the Coalition of Homelessness said that isn't true. Instead, they claim the city only has enough shelter beds for half the unhoused population, and that the city is simply marking people down as "refusing" shelter.

"There's a constitutional right to be on the streets if the city cannot provide housing, if the city cannot provide sufficient services," Jeffrey Kwong, President of the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club, told ABC7 News

The latest Point-in-Time Count from 2022 found that 7,754 people were experiencing homelessness in San Francisco.

According to the city's Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, there are almost 3,100 beds across 46 shelter sites. City data shows the shelters are 92% full.

VIDEO: Former SF Mayor Frank Jordan criticizes London Breed's approach to solving homeless crisis

Former San Francisco Mayor Frank Jordan says despite Mayor London Breed pouring billions of dollars to try and fix the homeless crisis, conditions are not getting any better.

"There's so many homeless people on the street, it's really affecting our city and business is going down. So it's affecting everybody's life," Resident and volunteer Kathy Wu said.

It's unlikely judges will make a decision on Wednesday. However, many in the community admit they are frustrated and angry over what they consider a lack of any action.

Mayor London Breed rallied among residents and other city leaders to reverse the injunction.

"It is not humane to let people live on our streets in tents, use drugs," she exclaimed. "We have found dead bodies, we have found a dead baby in these tents. We have seen people in really awful conditions and we are not standing for it anymore!"

"We are compassionate, we are supportive, we continue to help people, but this is not the way," she said in front of a crowd. "Anything goes in San Francisco is not the way!"

The federal judges challenged the attorneys for Coalition on Homelessness on the definition of involuntarily homeless.

(Judge) "In your brief you repeatedly said individuals who have practical which now I'm understanding you are now saying is readily available and voluntary access to shelter. So are you now no longer require ring that voluntary conditions?

(Coalition on Homeless Attorney) "Individuals are not compelled to use shelter but certainly if they do have access to shelter and they decide not to use it that doesn't make them involuntarily homeless."

The city's attorney viewed this as a breakthrough

"There was a major concession by opposing council today where they conceded that if you refuse housing or if you already have shelter elsewhere you should not be considered to be involuntarily homeless. That was a major concession frankly surprised us," said Chiu.

California Governor Gavin Newsom issued a statement writing:

"In California, we are cutting red tape and making unprecedented investments to address homelessness, but with each hard-fought step forward, the courts are creating costly delays that slow progress. I urge the courts to empower local communities to address street encampments quickly and comprehensively."

SFHSH has created the dashboard below which includes an inventory of HSH's shelter and crisis intervention resources, the number of total guests, the number of occupied units and beds, and the occupancy rate.

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