Ninth Circuit Affirms Preliminary Injunction Against San Francisco for Cruel and Unusual Treatment of Thousands of Unhoused Residents; City’s Efforts To Dissolve the Injunction Squashed
For Immediate Release
Media Contact: Nina Erlich-Williams, email@example.com 510-336-9566, C: 415-577-1153
San Francisco, Calif. – Today the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court’s ruling in Coalition on Homelessness v. City of San Francisco, upholding a federal judge’s finding that San Francisco had likely violated the constitutional rights of homeless people thousands of times in recent years by criminalizing their existence. Today’s ruling also confirmed San Francisco must follow its own policies and properly identify and store (“bag and tag”) the property of unhoused individuals under circumstances when city staff are legally allowed to clear encampments.
The Ninth Circuit panel affirmed that the US District Court for the Northern District of California appropriately issued a preliminary injunction in the case, which is intended to prevent the city from illegally destroying unhoused residents’ property and from criminalizing lying, sleeping, and sitting outside when they have no realistic alternative. The injunction protects against San Francisco’s brutal, costly, and counterproductive mass incarceration era policies that rely on citations and jail to solve a shelter and affordable housing problem, with options continuing to fall thousands of units short of the demonstrated need in the city.
“We appreciate the appellate court’s careful review of the issues at hand,” said Nisha Kashyap, senior staff attorney, Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area and one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs. “San Francisco should now get serious about real solutions to homelessness rather than wasting millions of dollars using handcuffs to solve a housing problem. If we want to solve homelessness, we need more affordable housing. It’s time for our political leaders to take accountability for that and for taxpayers to demand better.”
The Ninth Circuit panel also rejected attempts by San Francisco’s legal team to raise new arguments before the appellate court when there were no supporting facts that had been presented before the trial court.
The court’s order was issued on the same day that San Francisco announced a 22% increase in the number of people connected to shelter or housing in 2023. This trend makes clear that the city can address street homelessness while the preliminary injunction remains in place.
“As the court has affirmed, San Francisco’s homeless residents also have rights – the right to be free from citation and arrest for their status,” added John Do, senior staff attorney with ACLU of Northern California, who also represents the plaintiffs. “We are prepared to collaborate with San Francisco’s leaders to find a productive way forward to improve quality of life for unhoused and housed San Franciscans alike. We urge the city to take reasonable and commonsense steps to address the homelessness crisis. Our clients have advocated for increased interim shelter, services, and permanent affordable housing. It’s clear San Francisco can address this challenging issue, supported by the preliminary injunction in place, because all the injunction requires the city to do is to follow its own policies and the law.”
The district court issued a preliminary injunction in December 2022 to prevent San Francisco from arresting people simply for existing (including sitting and sleeping) in public when they have no reasonable access to shelter or housing. The injunction also requires San Francisco to follow its own written policies that prohibit the city from destroying the property of unhoused people. The court’s order has never prohibited San Francisco from addressing encampments or enforcing the majority of its laws related to public safety, including clearing sidewalks for public health or accessibility purposes or arresting individuals who have actually broken the law (such as public drug use, violence, or vandalism). Both parties in the lawsuit also agree that the preliminary injunction does not prohibit enforcement against people who have shelter or who decline specific offers of appropriate shelter.