Lawsuit alleges San Francisco is displacing unhoused people, taking their belongings

Melanie Woodrow Image
Wednesday, September 28, 2022
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A lawsuit filed against the city of San Francisco, city departments and the mayor alleges they violated unhoused individuals' constitutional rights.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A lawsuit filed Tuesday against the city of San Francisco, city departments and the mayor alleges the city violated unhoused individuals' constitutional rights by citing, fining and arresting them.

Efforts to clean up San Francisco's streets went too far according to the lawsuit.

"Instead of focusing on criminalization policies that don't work, that are terrorizing unhoused people which is unconstitutional. The city needs to focus on what the actual problem is here which is that it's too expensive for people who grew up and have been longtime residents of San Francisco to actually live here and survive," said Zal Shroff, an attorney with the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights.

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"A MacBook Pro, a cell phone, a brand new tent someone is sleeping in, their clothes, a toolbox, a work uniform, people's life-saving medications, your government ID, those are items that are clearly not trash and these are the items that the city is taking in remarkable numbers," Shroff continued.

That agency along with the ACLU of Northern California and the Coalition on Homelessness alleges in the lawsuit that city agencies violated unhoused people's constitutional rights by citing, fining and arresting them to remove them from sight as well as taking and destroying their belongings in targeted law enforcement operations.

The Stolen Belonging Project shared video with ABC7 News.

"These officers here are taking my stuff and they're throwing it away, everything I own, stealing my stuff which they say you can go get back at the yard but you never get back, I've been down there so many times and you never get a thing back they keep it all," San Francisco resident Todd Bryant says in the video.

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Toro Castano was formerly unhoused for two years.

"Depending on who you were dealing with, some people were very fair and kind and some people were very cruel," said Castano.

He says bagging and tagging items for unhoused people to collect later doesn't work.

"It's kind of a morass when you try to retrieve your belongings at the DPW yard. It can take several hours. It's hard to find someone who is willing to help you and it seems like a black hole really. I don't know very many people that get their things back," he continued.

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A spokesperson for the Mayor London Breed's Office told ABC7 News that since June of 2020 the city has expanded its permanent supportive housing units by nearly 3,000 new units.

Also that the city shelter system has expanded to more than 3,500 beds.

The goal of the lawsuit is to stop the city from displacing unhoused people or destroying their property.

Shroff says supporters of the lawsuit want the city to invest more in affordable housing.

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"We hope that this lawsuit is the wakeup call that actually causes people to adjust their practices," said Shroff.

In a statement, a spokesperson with the San Francisco City Attorney's Office writes, "The City is acutely focused on expanding our temporary shelter and permanent housing options to alleviate our homelessness crisis. Once we are served with the lawsuit, we will review the complaint and respond in court."

Castano is no longer unhoused but says the possibility of losing his housing again is always there.

"Now I'm just concerned for my friends that are still out there," said Castano.

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