While city fails to train staff on sweeps, the people who created this crisis are asking the Supreme Court to blame the victims.

OCTOBER 8, 2023


San Francisco hasn’t taken any serious steps to train its workforce on the current legal rules for addressing homeless camps, a new filing by the Coalition on Homelessness says.

The Oct. 6 filing is the latest in a lawsuit that has been going on for years and has led to an injunction against the city banning most sweeps—an injunction the city continues to defy.

A rally outside the federal court.

As part of the ongoing battle, the Coalition’s lawyers have demanded records showing how city officials are responding to the injunction—and according to the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, part of the Coalition’s legal team, those records suggest only limited training of city workers:

According to City records, its only formal training tool is a 30-minute PowerPoint presentation that does not mention the court’s injunction or meaningfully explain the procedures the City must follow when handling unhoused residents’ belongings. The City has shown this presentation only three times, and produced no records of how many people ever saw it.

From the legal filing:

Although the Court requested concrete details on the extent of the City’s training programs, the City has not described conducting any trainings specifically to address issues of noncompliance with the preliminary injunction. The City does not even indicate whether it has changed anything about DPW’s training regimen in light of the injunction. Additionally, the City presents no measures undertaken to monitor compliance with its trainings, incentivize adherence to the bag and tag policy, or sanction mishandling of unhoused individuals’ property. The City’s meager response regarding training further confirms Plaintiffs’ misgivings regarding the City’s compliance efforts.

In fact, the filing says, the minimal training has led to continued violations of the injunction, including the wanton destruction of the property of unhoused people:

Unsurprisingly, the City’s inadequate training has resulted in DPW employees failing to abide by the City’s bag and tag policy and the Court’s injunction. For example, despite instructions apparently given at Sup II Meetings to take photographs to document property removal at cleaning operations, no photo records exist for the vast majority of property removals taking place since the preliminary injunction—proof that these “trainings” are not heeded. The City has never surfaced comprehensive records of disputed property as contemplated by the City’s bag and tag policy …

More fundamentally, the training the City claims to conduct has not had any impact on the City’s unlawful property destruction practices since the Court’s preliminary injunction took effect.

“The City’s halfhearted efforts at complying with the injunction are irresponsible,” said John Do, senior staff attorney with ACLU of Northern California, who also represents the plaintiffs. “The fact is that the problem of homelessness in San Francisco can be improved, but only if the City adequately trains all of its staff who regularly interact with the unhoused population.”

The city has not yet filed any response.

At the same time the city is failing to abide by the injunction, a group of San Francisco billionaires, Republican donors, and tech CEOs has filed its own motion seeking to get the US Supreme Court to overturn the decision that in part led to the injunction.

In two cases, in Grants Pass, Oregon, and Boise, Idaho, federal courts have ruled that cities can’t criminalize people for sleeping on the streets or in the parks when there is nowhere else for them to go.

The City of Grants Pass is asking the Supreme Court to overturn those decisions—and Neighbors for a Better San Francisco, some local business leaders, and billionaires Michael Moritz, William Oberndorf, and Ron Conway are intervening on the side of Grants Pass.

In an amicus filing, the group argues that

A critical tool in addressing [the homeless] crisis is the enforcement of common sense public safety laws that prevent homeless encampments from taking over the City’s streets. By holding that enforcement of such laws violates the Eighth Amendment, the Ninth Circuit committed a serious legal error that will have devastating consequences for cities on the frontlines of the homelessness crisis. … There is nothing compassionate about abandoning homeless people to the nightmare of encampments.

Actually, for many unhoused people, camping together is about safety and community, and the real nightmare is the sweeps—and sometimes the city shelters.

This is one of my favorite quotes:

Homelessness is not a new challenge in San Francisco. Amid the City’s vast cultural and economic prosperity, some people have always lacked housing for a complex range of reasons.

Umm, a “complex range of reasons?” Actually, the reasons are pretty simple and obvious: The federal government, thanks to folks like the leaders of Neighbors for a Better San Francisco, lets billionaires pay less and less in taxes, creating radical economic inequality. The federal, state, and local government have put far too few resources into social housing—and the state, thanks again to massive, high-dollar contributions and lobbying by some of the folks filing this brief, like the San Francisco Apartment Association and the Small Property Owners of San Francisco, has prevented cities from imposing the type or rent controls and eviction protections that could prevent homelessness in the first place.

In a broad-brush sense, it’s the folks who are financing this brief who have created the problem.

Bill Oberndorf gives large sums of money to Republican candidates. Ron Conway gives large sums to neoliberal Democrats. Many of the groups involved in the case lobby at every level for lower taxes on corporations, low taxes on capital gains, less social spending, and more economic inequality.

And now they are blaming the victims of their greed. Yes, that’s what homeless people are: The victims of more than 40 years of public policy promoting corporate and individual greed.

It’s sad to see some of the folks who have lined up with these corporate titans:

Abanico Coffee Roasters. Anresco Laboratories. Banks & Sugarman. Castro Room. Cliff’s Variety .Handcrafted Horticulture .Lucy Junus Interior Design. Micro-Tracers, Inc. Midnight Sun. Panoramic Interests. San Francisco Office Lofts (SFOL). Second Label LLC. Shared Studios. Sign Me Up! Photography. Smile SF. SV Angel (well, that’s Ron Conway). The Edge. The Ngo House. Zingari Ristorante.

If you want to see the entire list of who is behind this latest attack on unhoused people, you can go here, and scroll all the way down to Appendix A.

Nobody knows what the Supreme Court will do. Only about one percent of the cases that seek High Court review make it onto the docket. The Court may be happy to see the mayors of Democratic cities like San Francisco unhappy.

Or the right-wing justices may see this as a way to make life even more miserable for the folks on the streets.