Tents near Erie.
Photo by Lydia Chávez December 4, 2022

Read in Spanish / Leer en español

Update, Dec. 23: Judge Ryu has granted a partial injunction, and restricted the sweeping of homeless encampments off the streets of San Francisco.

“The preliminary injunction will remain as long as there are more homeless individuals in San Francisco than there are shelter beds available,” the decision reads.

Dec. 22: A preliminary injunction that could bar San Francisco from sweeping homeless encampments could be issued within the next one to two weeks. 

In September, advocates for homeless rights and unhoused people sued San Francisco, alleging the city criminalized  homelessness through what they described as “cruel and unconstitutional policing and property destruction.”

Although the trial is not expected to commence until January, 2024, today a judge held a hearing to decide whether to grant a preliminary injunction forbidding the clearance of homeless people from the streets.

Donna M. Ryu, a federal magistrate judge for the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, said she would be issuing a written decision at a later date. 

“What we expect [the injunction] to say is that San Francisco can no longer be policing unhoused people unless the shelter system is back open, and people actually have practical access to shelter. So, that’s not going to be an option for law enforcement,” said Zal Shroff, a lead attorney representing the plaintiffs from the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Specifically, the plaintiffs hope an injunction will enable the homeless to protect their personal belongings from being discarded.

If the court approves the injunction, it would last until the trial on the case, and “should not impact the city’s ability to enforce legitimate safe health and safety laws, like ensuring access to streets,” added co-counsel John Do. “What the city can’t do is just the criminalization of being unhoused.”

During today’s hearing, Judge Ryu forcefully grilled the City Attorney defending San Francisco.

Part of the suit alleges that the city has broken the Eighth Amendment by threatening to cite and arrest homeless residents sleeping in public despite a lack of available shelters.

“So the city concedes that there is a shortfall in the thousands, between available shelter beds, and people who are involuntarily unhoused?” questioned Judge Ryu.

“That’s right,” answered Deputy City Attorney Jim Emery. 

“So the city concedes that there is a shortfall in the thousands, between available shelter beds, and people who are involuntarily unhoused?” questioned Judge Ryu.

“That’s right,” answered Deputy City Attorney Jim Emery. 

“And there’s a fair amount of evidence where people are saying or observing that there were no beds to be offered, that the Homeless Outreach Team didn’t have anything to offer, and the numbers bear that out,” continued Ryu.

Ryu then cited a pile of anecdotal and other evidence submitted by the plaintiffs, including data showing a shortfall of 2,700 to 4,200 available shelter beds between roughly 2019 through 2022. 

Ryu said she would review a legal citation that the city had presented as an argument, “but I don’t think it really rebuts, or anything close to the evidence, the qualitative and quantitative evidence produced by the plaintiffs in their motion,” she said. 

After the hearing, Shroff, the plaintiff’s lawyer, told the media: “The judge saw … that a written policy that seems good on paper, but never is followed, is not a policy at all.”

The preliminary injunction hearing. Dec. 22, 2022

“San Francisco has been playing a game with shelter beds,” he continued. “They’re purporting, ‘Oh, we’ve got 20 beds a day,’ when there are thousands of people waiting, and they’re calling that ‘available shelter,’ even though no one can access those beds. That’s a game that we’re seeing in many places in California and across the country. That’s something that needs to be stamped out.”

The suit also alleges that the city’s “bag and tag” policy regarding homeless people’s possessions, violated the Fourth Amendment. Ryu didn’t show as strong a leaning as she did on the issue of available beds, but it was obvious she was quite familiar with the evidence presented by the plaintiffs. She acknowledged that many personal possessions had indeed been impounded, providing a detailed description of how those objects had been collected and what they had been.

A blue blanket, a skateboard, a Nintendo Switch, a speaker, a stroller, a gray suit, art supplies and fishing poles, turntables and a guitar, a chalkboard on wheels, and a teddy bear were among a long list of personal belongings city workers taken from unhoused people last year under the city’s bag and tag policy, according to a graphic produced by Mission Local’s Will Jarrett

The plaintiff’s side is, by and large, feeling optimistic about the outcome of today’s hearing. “The city is still looking to blame unhoused people for a problem that it created,” Shroff said, referencing San Francisco’s decades-in-the-making housing crisis. “And criminalization is just one of the consequences of that really toxic choice that is costing all of us in the long run.”

Follow Us

REPORTER. Yujie Zhou is our newest reporter and came on as an intern after graduating from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. She is a full-time staff reporter as part of the Report for America program that helps put young journalists in newsrooms. Before falling in love with the Mission, Yujie covered New York City, studied politics through the “street clashes” in Hong Kong, and earned a wine-tasting certificate in two days. She’s proud to be a bilingual journalist. Follow her on Twitter @Yujie_ZZ.

Join the Conversation


Please keep your comments short and civil. Do not leave multiple comments under multiple names on one article. We will zap comments that fail to adhere to these short and very easy-to-follow rules.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. I have a perfect idea – rather than spending any money on a so-called “Safe Injection Site” – we need to put those funds (and all of the funds we currently hand over to the Coalition on Homelessness) toward reopening all of our homeless shelters so that we can provide beds for everyone. We can staff them with the homeless and GA recipients, as their community service in exchange for the payment of benefits. Then we can immediately begin to clean up the terrible mess on the streets of the Mission, and start helping people get off drugs, heal their mental illness, and train for jobs. Supervisor Ronen: Are you listening??

    1. You can go broke trying to help people get off of drugs. You can spend every penny you’ve got trying to get someone else to quit drinking or doing drugs. But, if it’s what they feel like doing, they’ll do it anyways. Let go or be dragged. Ever heard people say, “Legalize drugs, take the profit out of it, and there’s no more drugs!” Or, “Give everyone a job, or , at least guaranteed basic income, (welfare), and you’ve solved crime!”. Yeah, tell that to Sam Bankman- Fried….

  2. The root cause of this problem is the State law passed by Tom Ammiano back in the day that prohibits the city from confiscating homeless people’s property. I’m sure the poor DPW workers are destroying these people’s family albums and high school yearbooks. The only way to stop this is to send them home or to Pacific Heights and Sea Cliff

  3. “Personal belongings” like two-legged chairs, stolen bicycle parts, broken space heaters. In normal parlance, garbage. Glad to hear the garbage piles in the Mission are going to grow unabated. This is going to cause serious problems near Mission and Shotwell and under the Central Freeway. Ultimately, I blame the City Attorney for failing to provide counter-evidence of what the “personal belongings” littering the streets are. “Teddy bears and art supplies” are very much the exception.

    1. Problem with those piles of garbage is that they tend to catch fire. 🔥 The judge probably doesn’t see those piles of garbage in their neighborhood or up against their property. The judge probably wants to see themselves as a good person. The judge likely doesn’t shop at stores where the homeless arrive with masks covering their faces before they enter to “shop.”

  4. WHOA Reading the comments here really killed my holiday buzz. No possible solutions, other than jail. And no empathy at all.

  5. Funny. They’ve been going around in a circle for fifty years and getting nowhere. Big money is a large part of the problem. Slash
    funding for groups who have a vested interest in poverty and see how quickly they disappear. There are tens of billions of dollars in tax shelters that aren’t meeting the minimum in terms of donations, why don’t hopeless coalition groups try to leech off of them? Apply for grants intended to maintain the status quo of misery, addiction, filth, squalor, dejection, and degradation playing out in public.

  6. Housing is not forthcoming. Advocates have had 35 year to put something together above and beyond “others have it worse than you, so stfu politically and fund our nonprofit” but have failed.

    Prop C was merely a gift of cash money to London Breed that she uses to screw homeless people and build more conservative capacity to weaken progressives. I warned Friedenbach in 2018 that things would play out this way, but she told me I was being negative.

    This injunction is a road map to complete and total conservative Democrat political consolidation, and the utter demise of progressives, in that it keeps the political gold of public squalor around with which to raise name recognition and boost conservative Dems over progs at the ballot box.

    SF is in a situation where the civil rights of 10K homeless people are allowed to tie down all other progressive political priorities. No paid actors have the slightest incentive to disrupt the status quo. Political power and laundered money are helluva drugs.

    1. Your agenda is that of the ‘I’m as liberal as they come’ conservative on this front, and you telling Friedenbach what’s up is cringeworthy. Breed squeaked out a victory in the same election prop C passed. You didn’t know what would happen.

      There is no “road map” to progressive Democrat success that detours around advocating for society’s most marginalized.

      It took minutes for the judge to show the city was bending the truth. It would have been a dereliction of duty for Friedenbach not to have enacted such a simple course of action.

      “The utter demise of progressives,” hahaha. So scary, bro. Who knew this was the final straw? Besides you, of course.

  7. Agreed with prior comments. There is a City law prohibiting blockage of public access to pedestrians. As I had previously commented, disabled, such as the posted comment below, blocking sidewalks makes children elderly, wheelchair users and others have to walk off the curb into vehicle traffic. This is not only dangerous but against the law. I need look up the actual law ID and the text.

  8. What you’re witnessing is the Welfare Gold-rush. Almost every one of these people are from out of state. They are here because the benefits San Francisco offer far exceed anything they could get in Arkansas or Mississippi. Here you can pitch a tent on the street and become a resident in two weeks. Then the Homeless Industrial Complex goes to work. Hundreds of city workers making six figures roam the streets to sign the homeless up for welfare, bring them clothing to throw in the gutter and most importantly sign them up for free housing. The only way to stop this crisis is to send them back to where they came from.

    1. I can literally see people arriving in vehicles and being dumped off in SF. Some wrapped in blankets, some in pajamas and slippers, all looking lost in the head and bewildered. If you house two hundred, there’s an underground railroad that’s going to send another three hundred in right behind them

  9. The city that spends +$18000 on a single garbage can and millions of dollars on pointless sweeps of unhoused people and “bagging and tagging” their belongings should buy up existing hotels like The Oasis and convert them into shelters for unhoused people. The vicious cycle of real estate speculation, illegal evictions, apartment flipping and homelessness is REAL. Elder renters on fixed incomes in rent controlled apartments are Target #1 of real estate investors. The data shows San Francisco’s homeless population is aging. Ignore the truth at your peril.

  10. For 10 weeks now, my neighbors and I have been working to get an unhoused gentleman who currently lives on the sidewalks of our neighborhood housed. He is in a tent. He does chores around the neighborhood. We have repeatedly engaged with various city departments and the SFPD. To no avail. Previously, he went to a congregate shelter where he was robbed and beaten, his glasses broken and his cell phone stolen. And guess what? He refuses to go back to the violent, scary and dangerous setting of a group shelter. So the existing systems have labelled him someone who has “refused shelter.” Anyone who says they would willingly sleep in a congregate setting where there is no security and with other unknown people (and by so doing, would expose themselves to illness, violence, theft, harm and even death) is lying. It is completely insane that SF, one of the wealthiest cities on the planet, wastes money on sweeps and bagging and tagging. Spend that money on hotel rooms, or buying up hotels like TheOasis and converting them into housing for the desperate folks living on our sidewalks.

    1. It’s sad that they send a team of four or five individuals out in a new vehicle, or an ambulance, to speak to one person to try to persuade them to take shelter. The one brief visit alone lasting five minutes probably costs tax payers close to $500. What a racket.

  11. Shelters don’t lead to housing and people end up back on the street again. There are places like Lake Merced that are largely comprised of families in RVs.

    1. We’d be having a different conversation if the encampments in the Mission and elsewhere were peaceful like the SF State/Lake Merced RV rows. No drugs, no trash, no mayhem. You could put these ppl in hotel rooms as Greeny proposes and there would be no issues. Instead, after causing millions in damage, hotels are suing the City for the street ppl she sent during the pandemic. It’s a tired tactic of convoluting the housing discussion with the folks who cannot hold a place down, who need to be taken off the streets and placed into treatment.

  12. I am blind with some vision in one eye. The homeless situation scares me. I step in unknown substances. Many homeless have shortened life spans. If someone is harming themselves OR others.. we are obligated by law & love to intervien. This is a sad public health issue. It only gets worse exponentially..
    Some people with mental health issues refuse to take their medication.. choosing to shorten their lives by living free on the sidewalk is a hard choice professionals NEED to address.i will have to leave San Francisco, which I love, if these important health issues aren’t taken care of. My health and safety count too. Thank You for your time and help.
    Marie Canavan

  13. I’m as liberal as they come but the citizens of SF cannot possibly provide shelter to every transient that arrives within city limits. Homeless encampments are a disgusting pubic health menace and frankly I don’t think the city is doing anyone a favor but making living on the street a realistic choice. I agree there needs to be a system to help people without homes but I do not think being passed out in your own urine in a bus stop is something that should be allowed. There are more people in the city then just homeless people, why don’t we make the city work for them.

    1. This verdict is mostly a reiteration of Boise. Nothing substantially new here as far as I can tell. There is no way the City can remain in a position to not have leverage over the encampments. To the point you make, based on past experience, there is need to ramp up shelter capacity for every last soul living on the sidewalks. Not even close: Back in 2016, walk-ups to Pier 80, offering an on-site medical team (MD docs) and all, sneered at it as not good enough. Return to this model, and document how shelters end up sitting empty. From the City’s end, you have done your part.

      1. I hope the city will reconsider the updated version of Mayor Art Agnos’s idea about using ships. Recently retired cruise ships could be reused as floating clinics/residences instead of being turned into scrap metal. Leasing 3 of them can give us 6000+ staterooms as well as accommodations for staff, dispensaries, kitchens, lounges, recreation rooms, swimming pools and security. They could be tied to Pier 80 on a temporary basis until the city builds enough housing for all of us.

        1. What would it cost to staff a scrapped cruise ship? If you merely put a dozen tents on a floating barge, the non profit operating it would seek about $700,000? What shouldn’t cost much invariably costs 10x any reasonable amount, at a minimum.

        2. Robin Chiang – the idea of using cruise ships is absolutely brilliant! Especially since the pandemic has reduced the demand for cruises, making so many of the older ships superfluous. We definitely should look into this. One ship could halt this entire injunction right now! (As would reopening all of the Navigation Centers, which have the capacity to house all of the currently homeless individuals who are now on our streets). But it is worthwhile to note that we currently *do* have beds *right now* for *all* of the currently homeless people who reside on the streets – when you define that as “people who are willing to enter a shelter” – as opposed to “people who want the city to give them a free hotel room of their own and as much fentanyl/free needles or meth/meth pipes as they want”!

  14. Well the judge obviously has none of the tent sites affecting his home. The cops obviously keep them out of hissneighborhood. Sorry but these people are mentally ill and feel they own the sidewalks and want to charge people yo walk by.

  15. The real truth of the matter is that there *are* shelter beds available. Some shelters were closed during the pandemic, and absolutely need to be reopened. This can be done ASAP. Have the more functional homeless individuals staff and clean them as part of their work. There are other staffed shelter beds that have been trapped in some sort of limbo due to arcane regulations. (According to a staff member at the MSC South Shelter, they have a dozen or so beds that are empty but somehow reserved for so-called GA recipients, who apparently do not claim them but they cannot be given to anyone else?) Obviously, we need to put people into the shelters, even if they refuse to go. Sleeping and dying on the streets should not be an option!

    1. You’re right- according to the article there are maybe 20 shelter beds available!

      I agree with you that sleeping and dying on the streets should not be an option. Please join me in calling for the expropriation of these 60,000 vacant units. Let’s house our people with houses, where they can keep their pets and loved ones. Let’s show the world that the City of St. Francis puts people above profits. Merry Christmas!

      1. Well, if you’ve got a yard, front lawn, driveway, spare room, or a couch that you’re not using all day, I suggest you use your own property instead. Hell, any asset that you have should be turned over to save people who are suffering in addiction and dying. Only if you’re truly heartless would you refuse self-appropriation to save lives of precious human beings. You’ve already acknowledged that you’re down for the cause in principle, or does that only apply to other people’s property? Save a life, give it all up. Lead the way.

      2. How do you propose dealing with the logistics of getting a homeless person into and out of an apartment in the month between tenants? And where should they sleep in an active construction site? Who gets to deal with the homeless sleeping in grandma’s house when she left for assisted living? Because those are most of the fabled “60,000 vacant units.”

      3. Right on!
        Let’s go with the Pyongyang model!
        Ooops – “North Korean home prices in Pyongyang reflect high demand“
        Never mind – we’ll invent our own progressive housing justice ideology.

        We could immediately solve the affordable housing problem be forcing all Master Tenants living in rent controlled units to sub-lease housing to max Jane Kim occupancy. Since Master Tenant can’t charge more than equal share this results in incredibly cheap rent.
        Heck – all rental units must be maxed – rent control or not.

        Defeat the long term rent controlled bourgeois tenant living alone in a 2 bedroom unit which could house 4 additional people.

        All power to the dictatorship of the unhoused!

  16. “should not impact the city’s ability to enforce legitimate safe health and safety laws, like ensuring access to streets”

    This does not impact the cities ability to clean up encampments full of dirty needles and filth that pose a risk to the general public. Hint hint this is nearly all encampments . It’s easy to tell who is experiencing hard times and who needs to be conserved. If its a simple tent, offer housing and support. If its an encampment is overflowing with stolen bikes and filth, put them in jail or where ever there is availability. The later don’t get better.

    1. Attorney’s representing a number of people who live on the street as well as the hopeless coalition, are suing the City for multiple billions of dollars for being big meanies. Coalition of hopeless cells in two or three other cities in the country are up to the same tactics, kind of like they were all in cahoots with one another… Hopefully, the judge isn’t going to throw a monkey wrench into the equation. No one has the right to live in degrading, dehumanizing conditions, within the scope of the public eye, simply because they want to stay high on drugs, or to remain sedated by them, and all that it often entails, money that isn’t honestly earned.

  17. The late Ed Koch was speaking of NY but it applies to SF when he said “There’s not enough money in the world to provide everyone with a free studio apartment in Manhattan forever.”

  18. Yay! Another win for the homeless industrial complex! On the one hand, these organizations have protested, lobbied against and strongly discouraged the building of shelters for many years. And then, they sue the city of San Francisco because the city does not have enough shelter beds. It is a cynical strategy and it is infuriating! They have every incentive to perpetuate this problem because it ultimately keeps them in business. We need homeless advocacy organizations that actually want to shelter and house homeless people. What we have now are organizations like the Coalition on Homelessness who have no interest in ending homelessness. We as San Franciscans should insist that the city build adequate shelter capacity following the leads of New York City and the State of Massachusetts. These lawsuits would then become obsolete.

    1. Honestly, the residents of the City of San Francisco should sue the Homeless Coalition for turning our city into a filthy hellhole and forcing the mentally ill to live on the street in tents (or passed out on the bare concrete) – rather than in clean warm shelters.

    2. The fact that the hopeless coalition is celebrating it’s 35th year in business while hopelessness, drug addiction, mental health crisis, overdose deaths, and the number of people living next to the gutter has
      increased should tell you that the drug dealers are winning the war against drug addicts while people are literally advocating for homelessness.

  19. Can regular San Francisco residents have an advocate at this hearing? Nobody ever — EVER — speaks for us.