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Lawsuits & Litigation

Homeless Advocates File Lawsuit Against San Francisco

— September 30, 2022

One formerly homeless plaintiffs claims that city Public Works employees destroyed his MacBook Pro, while another says that officials took his godmother’s ashes.

A homeless rights organization and a coalition of unhoused San Francisco residents have filed a lawsuit against the city, seeking to end police enforcement of so-called “quality-of-life” laws.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the lawsuit alleges that San Francisco violates state and federal laws, as well as its own policies, by “punishing residents who have nowhere to go.”

The city, says the lawsuit, routinely seizes and destroys homeless residents’ property and belongings when clearing encampments, leaving displaced persons increasingly vulnerable to hardship and abuse.

Homeless rights advocates also claim that San Francisco’s approach to combating homelessness is ineffective and extremely expensive, with the city having spent more than $20 million enforcing quality-of-life laws in 2015 alone.

The ultimate goal of the lawsuit, says the San Francisco Chronicle, is to push the city into budgeting more money for the construction and provision of affordable shelter.

“This is the accumulation of years of witnessing, documenting and responding to fundamentally abusive human rights violations that unhoused people have had to experience at the very worst time in their lives,” said Jenny Friedenbach of the Coalition on Homelessness. “We hope to accomplish a dramatic shift from a city that responds to homelessness with sweeps, with confiscation of property, with criminalizing folks for being poor to a city that is instead addressing the issue at its core through the provision of housing.”

Several tents packed closely together under an overhanging concrete structure.
Homeless camp under an I-580 overpass in California. Photo by Grendelkhan, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 4.0, image has been cropped.

The lawsuit, adds the Chronicle, includes declarations from more than 25 homeless San Franciscans, five Coalition on Homelessness employees, and a former employee with the city’s homeless outreach team.

One homeless woman, who is physically disabled, said that local Public Works officials destroyed her prosthetics.

Similarly, a homeless man with a heart condition lost his medication, while another man claimed that San Francisco officials stole and disposed of his godmother’s ashes.

“When people lose all those things, they’re in very desperate situations and have very limited options,” said plaintiff Toro Castano, who was homeless for two years.

Castano, writes the Chronicle, lost his MacBook Pro laptop, a tent, and clothing in an enforcement sweep.

Castano further told the Chronicle that police and other city officials sometimes asked him to move from his camping spot multiple times per week.

According to Castano, workers would sometimes make “nebulous” shelter offers. However, they would only confirm later in the day whether shelter was available; in many cases, the workers would never return.

Castano, says the Chronicle, now lives in a housing co-operative, and hopes that the lawsuit can help change city policies.

“I’d like to see more supportive housing and low-income housing,” he said, “and I’d like to protect people on the streets.”


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