Tent encampment set up along a median at 16th Street and Dolores.

Former San Francisco employees, including a director who worked with the homeless, allege that the city routinely cleared encampments while knowing there were not enough shelter beds available, according to new testimony filed in court Friday.

Encampments were often cleared at the behest of the mayor and city officials, according to the testimony of Kaki Marshall, who was the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing’s former Director of Outreach and Temporary Shelter from October, 2018, to August, 2019. Marshall believed the policies “fundamentally harmed people and actually exacerbated San Francisco’s homelessness crisis.”

“There were many times when I was working for San Francisco that I believed I was being asked to break the law,” wrote Marshall, who is formerly homeless and was a homeless activist.

These new testimonies were filed as a part of a lawsuit brought in September against the City and County of San Francisco over the treatment of unhoused individuals. The Coalition on Homelessness, which filed the lawsuit alongside seven homeless people, alleges that the city broke several of its own policies and violated the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ Boise ruling, which prohibits cities from relocating homeless people if there isn’t sufficient shelter to offer them. 

The testimony is intended to support an injunction that would prevent all homeless encampment sweeps until the lawsuit is resolved. A hearing regarding that injunction is scheduled for Dec. 22.

In Friday’s filings, Marshall said they were explicitly directed by the former head of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, Jeff Kositsky, to forcibly move unhoused people and destroy their property without taking the time to inquire about their needs. 

The city cleared encampments in response to “daily mandates” by Mayor London Breed, Marshall stated: “Mayor Breed ordered us to carry out sweeps because she did not want to be seen near unhoused people while she was at lunch, at the gym, at fundraisers, or at meetings on public business.”

In 2021, the Homelessness Outreach Team conducted a two-day encampment clearing at Willow Street before Breed and former supervisor Matt Haney appeared at a nearby event.

To accommodate people who were suddenly allocated beds at the behest of city politicos, other needy unhoused folks were pushed off shelter waitlists, Marshall alleged.

While at their former post, Marshall said they reviewed text messages from Breed, instructing the department’s Healthy Streets Operations Center team to remove encampments by a certain deadline. Marshall, knowing there wasn’t enough shelter available, said they would attempt to whisk unhoused folks away from the area by offering to buy them lunch. They said that they worried another city worker in their position might forcibly move the individual without offering resources, given the “pressure” from the mayor.

The supervisors could sway the city, too, Marshall stated: “Mr. Kositsky would say that we had to make the supervisors happy.”

Marshall also suggested the method the department used to track shelter refusal was misleading. The Homelessness and Outreach Team would warn unhoused folks that the police were coming, without taking steps to offer shelter, Marshall alleged. Despite the lack of offers, they wrote, the city recorded those individuals as having “refused” shelter, which Marshall called an “inaccurate and blatant attempt to work around the City’s stated requirements for enforcement.”

According to Marshall, a third-party auditor updated the method used to track shelter acceptance after they argued that it was flawed. Marshall stated the change revealed that, in reality, few individuals refused shelter.

Sam Dodge, the present Director of Healthy Streets Operations Center and a defendant in the Coalition on Homelessness case, denied that the city had inflated the number of shelter refusals in an interview with Mission Local.

“Our whole goal for those of us who work in this realm is to help people in an extremely desperate situation,” Dodge said. He said that the tools used to track who was accepting shelter were created collaboratively and with best practices in mind.

Marshall “did not work in this field for very long,” Dodge said. “They moved from Portland, and then were here, and were gone pretty quick.”

The lawsuit uses a data analysis from Chris Herring, a sociologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, to buttress its claims that encampment sweeps occurred while there were not enough beds available for all impacted unhoused people. The analysis relies on the city’s own reports of scheduled sweeps and its available shelter beds. It concluded that “institutional pressures and limited shelter availability can cause workers on the ground to fabricate compliance,” effectively over-reporting the number of people who reject shelter.

Former Public Works staff Andrinna Malone also filed testimony on Friday. According to Malone, who worked at the department for 18 years, Public Works staff fail to post notices or warnings before workers come to clear encampments on a “daily basis.” The city has previously stated that it warns unhoused individuals before it clears an encampment.

The few instances where the department would post a sign was when “there was a lot going on — like media coverage or other political pressure,” Malone stated.

When Public Works crews remove an encampment, staff are supposed to collect and log unhoused residents’ belongings to be retrieved later, known as “bagging and tagging.” Instead, Malone said, Public Works often threw away residents’ items altogether, due to a lack of time to sort out trash from belongings.

“I have seen DPW workers throw away entire tents,” Malone stated.

Malone refused to throw away items, and would “bag and tag” them for later retrieval. She believed her actions and her dissent got her removed from the street-cleaning teams and put on graffiti cleanup duty instead.

“You’re a little too compassionate,” one manager allegedly told Malone, to explain her dismissal from the team. “We’re at war with the homeless right now.”

Both Marshall and Malone stated that San Francisco’s approach to homelessness caused them trauma.

Jennifer Freidenbach, the executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness, said that “it is a huge deal that we now have two former city employees that are confirming what the unhoused people have been saying all along. It demonstrates a widespread practice of property confiscation.“ 

“The city cannot say these are one-off instances from city employees,” said Freidenbach.

“San Francisco aims to provide permanent, secure housing to all who need it,” wrote Jen Kwart, a spokesperson for the City Attorney’s Office. “We look forward to discussing with the Court the City’s services-first approach and the significant investments the City has made to address our homelessness crisis.”

The Mayor’s Office and the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing declined to comment on the ongoing lawsuit. Kositsky also declined to comment.

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REPORTER. Annika Hom is our inequality reporter through our partnership with Report for America. Annika was born and raised in the Bay Area. She previously interned at SF Weekly and the Boston Globe where she focused on local news and immigration. She is a proud Chinese and Filipina American. She has a twin brother that (contrary to soap opera tropes) is not evil.

Follow her on Twitter at @AnnikaHom.

DATA REPORTER. Will was born in the UK and studied English at Oxford University. After a few years in publishing, he absconded to the USA where he studied data journalism in New York. Will has strong views on healthcare, the environment, and the Oxford comma.

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  1. COURT CASES ARE MORE OF WHAT WE NEED ON BEHALF OF THOSE WITHOUT STABLE LIVING QUARTERS OF A PERMANENT TYPE. MANY HAVE WITNESSED THE HEINOUS CONDITIONS OUR FELLOW NEIGHBORS HAVE HAD TO ENDURE. I ASK THAT CITIZENS, IN EVERY CITY AND TOWN SPEAK UP IN COURTS OF LAW. SUE THOSE RESPONSIBLE, MAYORS, CITY COUNCIL, COUNTY SUPERVISORS, WHOMEVER, FOR GIVING MORE CREDIBILITY TO THE NIMBYs THAN TO THOSE HOMELESS WE MUST HOLD RESPONSIBLE THOSE SHIRKING THEIR OATHS TO RUN A MANAGEABLE COUNTY, CITY, TOWN, COMMUNITY. WE ARE EAGER TO HEAR ALL UPDATES. APPLAUD TO THE COURAGEOUS WITNESSES AND COLLEGE STUDENT WHO DID THE STATISTICAL ANALYSIS. YIMBY

  2. How many of you are one pay check away from being homeless yourselves? If you’ve never been there,don’t judge. Those “drug addicts,derelicts we’re once functioning members of society who never dreamed they’d wake up one day,homeless. That could be your mom,sister,daughter,brother,aunt ,uncle etc that ur throwing away like a piece of garbage . Have a little mercy on these people ,they don’t want to b there anymore than you assholes want them there.

  3. urban alchemy operates a a tiny cabins program at 33 gough street. we have tents blocked sidewalks from people experiencing homelessness on all the surrounding streets. urban alchemy promised to keep the surrounding area free of tents as part of the obligation to the tiny cabins operation. they have failed to do so. urban alchemy is a slick operation, they do not make the mission district safer https://urban-alchemy.us/about-us/

  4. I am caused trauma every time I, as a senior citizen, am forced to walk on the sidewalks teaming with drug addicts and threatening bullies demanding money from me.

  5. We will never never fix the “homeless” problem, as these delusional “activists” frame it, because we can’t ever afford the unlimited and never ending number of homes that it would take. We can however fix a vagrant problem. Vagrants can be and are dealt with, all over the planet. But places that service their “homeless” population, are on a never ending merry round. Round and round they go, never getting any resolution, Jesus will come back before the “homeless” issue can ever be solved, with the ethos of these vagrant worshiping “activists”.

  6. The Boise decision did not “prohibit cities from relocating homeless people if there isn’t sufficient shelter to offer them.” You just have to read the decision. It is far narrower:

    “[W]e in no way dictate to the City that it must provide sufficient shelter for the homeless, or allow anyone who wishes to sit, lie, or sleep on the streets . . . at any time and at any place.” We hold only that “so long as there is a greater number of homeless individuals in [a jurisdiction] than the number of available beds [in shelters],” the jurisdiction cannot prosecute homeless individuals for “involuntarily sitting, lying, and sleeping in public.” That is, as long as there is no option of sleeping indoors, the government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property, on the false premise they had a choice in the matter.”

  7. Please please please. SFC, more sweeps. Mission streets looks like a 3rd world market. It’s unsafe for everyone. The only people who support this are those pocketing the government’s $$ behind the scene. Homeless Coalition being the #1 suspect.

  8. thank you for this important article, annika and will!

    housing is a fundamental human right. every human should have access to safe and secure housing and healthcare. the mayor’s activities are clearly illegal.

    1. These individuals are not capable of being housed. The covid hotel programs proved this. Channing and the rest are delusional. Where is housing a fundamental human right?

    2. Total charade and everybody’s fed up. Enough of this. Latest episode Friday night I was waiting for the bus at West Portal with a handful of others including a teenage girl. One “client” high on meth walks up and gets into the teenage girl’s face with the words “You’ve been raped in High School. Sophomore”.
      It is straightforward to meet Boise. Let’s do what San Mateo County does and ramp on shelter beds. There are plenty of empty warehouses and the like. When they don’t fill, the City’s in the clear and can tackle the sidewalk blockades.

  9. “San Francisco aims to provide permanent, secure housing to all who need it,”
    Is this to be taken literally?
    Is this quote, perhaps, taken out of context?
    Anybody from anywhere on the planet (we’re a sanctuary city) with a declared need is to be be provided with permanent, secure housing within San Francisco?
    Upon their arrival or can they reserve ahead of time?
    Ambitious.

  10. I would like to sue the Coalition on Homelessness for perpetuating and promoting lawlessness, open drug use, public urination and defection, trash dumping, blocking pedestrian and bike ways, and petty crime in the streets of San Francisco. The plaintiffs will be the community of business owners, home owners, renters, workers, students and families of San Francisco who would like to have clean, safe, and walkable streets.

    1. Why would you do that and how is the Coalition on Homelessness perpetuating homelessness and “open drug abuse”?! If anything, they are doing their best to prevent it and peeps like you that defend statist cred and yuppie values are scum and you should move out of the city….yuppie dirtbag!

      1. Emilio,

        For the Coalition their business is homelessness and they continue to squander funding from the city. To date the COH has not provided any comprehensive metrics on their success in reducing homelessness. People are sick and tired of trash like you calling demands of basic law, order and sanitary streets “yuppie values.” As a hardworking blue collar guy I want my kids to grow up in a neighborhood and city not filled with drug addict thieves who have more legal immunity than any of us. You’re the one that needs to move. Take you’re harmful delusions with you.

  11. Yes, those without houses deserve safe and secure housing, but when they take over the streets with unsanitary and unpleasant structures, it destroys communities and local businesses. Stop trying to solve this with bandaids. We need affordable housing, livable wages, and free healthcare funded by taxes on those who have more than enough!

    1. No one will bother to work, if they are taxed too much. Why don’t you pay more taxes, since you love taxes so much?

  12. This whole lawsuit is a farce. Removing mounds of trash is in everyone’s best interest. Letting the homeless decline in a pile of filth is worse.

    Kaki was an incompetent clown and removed for this reason.

    1. No one should have their belongings stolen, which is what they do. I was unfortunate during the pandemic and was homeless- public workers would come with s trash truck and DESTROY AND TAKE everything. I lost important papers and had no clothes left. I lived with a group of people, two of which were 16&17 year old girls. They were kicked out and finally has gotten stability , but the city came and DESTROYED and took that. They never offered us housing. It’s not right that some homeless people make massive messes, but it doesn’t give right to throw people’s belongings away and not offer any help. I had my belongings stolen FOUR times by the city, made holding a job so hard.

      1. The Coalition doesn’t receive any public, federal, or city funding. They are a privately funded non-profit. Any grants they received are privately funded and not from public sources.