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SF’s sit-lie law may be told to take a hike

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Ashante Jones talks with an SFPD officer outside his tent space while San Francisco Department of Public Works and San Francisco Police sweep the homeless encampment along Division Street in San Francisco, Calif. Tuesday, March 1, 2016. (Jessica Christian/ S.F. Examiner)

San Francisco police officers should stop citing homeless residents for sleeping on streets or in other public spaces.

That’s because enforcing such crimes that break “quality-of-life” laws is costing The City at least $20.6 million annually and is not actually reducing the number of people living on the streets, according to a report from the Budget Analyst released Wednesday.

To view the report click here.

The report recommends the police cease enforcement of laws that criminalize the homeless, which has increased in recent years. Between 2013 and 2015, enforcement of “quality-of-life” laws increased by 35 percent.

Instead, non-law enforcement city agencies should respond to these “quality-of-life” incidents, including the new Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing that’s expected to open July 1.

“Quality of life” laws have remained a point of legal contention as more cities seek to adopt them in response to growing homeless populations. San Francisco has 36 of such laws, including the sit-lie law (which prohibits people from sitting or lying on sidewalks), no sleeping in public parks at night and no building of encampments.

Supervisor Eric Mar requested the report in collaboration with the Coalition on Homelessness following Mayor Ed Lee’s recent call for a crackdown citywide of encampments, which critics have rebuked as an inhumane strategy.

Jennifer Friedenbach, the coalition’s executive director, said the millions of dollars spent on “criminalizing people forced to sleep on the streets would be much better spent on housing.”

The Police alone spent at least $18 million between January 2015 and November 2015 related to 60,491 quality-of-life incidents involving the homeless, including 8,053 sit-lie incidents. In 2013, there were 44,863 quality-of-life homeless incidents, of which 7,135 involved the sit-lie law.

The basis for the report’s recommendation to cease enforcement emphasizes the ineffectiveness of such policies.

“Police officers are not trained to evaluate the complex needs of a homeless individual or to directly connect them with the social services provided by The City,” the report states.

Additionally, while “one of the main goals of quality-of-life laws was to preserve public spaces,” the unsheltered homeless population increased from 3,016 in 2011 to 3,505 in 2015, a 16 percent growth.

How The City can best allocate its resources was also questioned in the report.

“Because of the high cost of police resources, the current use of police resources to respond to quality of life incidents relating to the homeless will continue to generate high costs for The City,” the report states.

Last year, at least 4,711 — or 8 percent — of the some 60,000 incidents resulted in a citation of homeless persons. The police could not track citations by housing status, according to the report, which instead relied upon incomplete Department of Emergency Management data to determine if a homeless person was cited.

The confirmed number of homeless cited is a small fraction of the total quality-of-life citations issued by police officers. For example, between January 2015 and September 2015 alone, police issued a total of 20,796 citations for quality-of-life laws, which includes both homeless and housed persons.

Of the total incidents, police arrested 125 people and, when responding to calls, couldn’t locate alleged violators in 15,164 incidents.

The costs include $1.8 million for DEM to respond to calls and $188,777 for two park patrol officers to enforce the no sleeping or camping in the parks at night law. Park patrol officers issued 1,811 citations for sleeping or camping in parks during fiscal year 2014-15.

Some homeless cited for quality of life citations are even ending up in jail, the report found. Of the more than 2,000 homeless persons jailed in 2014, 132 homeless persons were charged with solely quality-of-life violations and served a total of 189 days in jail, according to the report.

Not only can the laws adversely affect homeless residents, but their legality remains a subject of dispute nationwide.

In August 2015, the Justice Department weighed in on a lawsuit against a Boise, Idaho law banning sleeping and camping in public, arguing such laws violate a person’s Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

“Sleeping is a life-sustaining activity—i.e., it must occur at some time in some place. If a person literally has nowhere else to go, then enforcement of the anti-camping ordinance against that person criminalizes her for being homeless,” the DOJ filing said.

Click here or scroll down to comment

  • John O’Grady

    Stack boxes that are 4 ft. x 4 ft. x 8 ft. inside a large semi- trailer. Provide ventilation and also a porta-potty with a sink on the outside if possible. Have the semi-trailer pull up by Glide etc. every night and leave again in the morning. Essentially a homeless shelter on wheels. They’d be out of the elements and out of sight.

  • Independent1inSF

    Buy a massive cruise ship with the small bedrooms and put it in the bay! Those boats can hold thousands of people!

  • Steep Ravine

    “forced to sleep on the streets” No one is forced.

  • Randy F.

    Stack them on wood pallets and secure with a banding machine , crimp bands . Stack in warehouse with a forklift . Rotate your stock . Oldest in front .

  • Zippster

    SF resembles a third world hellhole.

  • avelvetcrush

    excellent idea, mein Führer!

  • MsOakilland

    Hard to believe there was actually a time when SF was safe, clean and you didn’t have to step over bums laying on the sidewalk.

    Those were the times before the progressives came to this city with their own stupid agendas and ruined SF forever.

  • Mayoral Debates

    And then sink the boats

  • Howard Epstein

    San Francisco votes approved the Sit-Lie Ordinance, Prop. L, In November 2010. I should take a vote to overturn it.

  • Hata H. Zappa

    You talk like this on dates, don’t you asshole?

  • 101

    If the liberal progressives love these people so much, why don’t they bring them home to their homes to take care of. Oh snap, they only know how to complain.

  • Keith Pasquinzo

    This is a stupid article. The people voted for sit/lie…people don’t have a right to do whatever they want. Services are fine but what do you do with the person who doesn’t want services. Go to Haight St…those transients don’t want services or shelter…They panhandle and hang out here then move on to Santa Cruz, Portland, etc….Sending a Homeless Outreach Team to contact them is a waste of time. Getting across to these transients that if you come to San Francisco you will need to act right and not take advantage of our streets and parks. If the word got out that we as a city were sick and tired of their actions and actually had a DA who gave a crap about crime then and only then will we make dent in homelessness and crime/

  • Ted Loewenberg

    The law was not intended to “remove the homeless from the street.” It gives the police the authority to act, without a citizen complaint, to keep walkways safe and clear. It was passed by the voters with a 7% majority. And, Civil Sidewalk citations alone did not cost the City $20 million. Get real.

  • Daniel Savio

    Right, they have the “option” to stay awake all night.


  • Randy F.

    Javoul !

  • Rupert Clayton

    I can think of at least three ways the sit-lie ordinance might change. SF voters might vote to repeal or modify it. It might be declared unconstitutional (at a state or federal level) based on a legal challenge (see the DoJ’s intervention in Boise mentioned in the article). Or it could simply be that our SFPD chooses to prioritize other offenses above sit-lie (as has been done with marijuana use). The first of these would reflect best on the humanity of SF voters, but the last approach actually seems most likely.

  • shawn_non_anonymous

    The guy laying in a pool of his own vomit, sprawled across half the Civic Center subway stairs agrees with the author. Why should he have to move just so people can enter and exit the subway? There’s another entrance a block away. Go use that.

  • Gia Hopkins

    Perhaps the hard working people of San Francisco need to take some days off to protest in numbers the outrageous ideas of our so called leaders. We used to have a vagrancy law on the books to keep people from doing just this. I’ve lived here my whole life which is way longer than any of these supervisors. No one asked me if I wanted to be a Sanctuary City. I don’t want to be. Stop inviting all the homeless here to begin with and you will cut your costs. Property owners pay property tax. We have a right to not have someone pee and poop on our doorsteps. Quit rewarding bad behavior. We have shelters. They don’t have to stay here.

  • scottthayersf

    I agree. Progressives have ruined the city. Sadly, we allowed it to happen with the nonsensical premise that district elections would give more of a voice to actual neighborhood groups when it really just turned out to be a progressive power play. maybe the sales tax increase to fund the new “Department of Homelesness” (yes, even more progressives profiting from the destruction of the city) will fail.

  • scottthayersf

    The techies can write an app to match a homeless with a progressive. Then those who think the homeless are a wonderful asset to the city can enjoy their company 24/7.

  • Randy F.

    Dan White knew this would happen { District supes , et al } and said so .

  • HZCrane

    Dan White was high on twinkies.

  • HZCrane

    Do you want to kill homeless women and children, or just men?

  • Randy F.

    So said his defense… I saw him as an avenging angel.. Like Travis Bickle at the climax of movie Taxi Driver..

  • cosimo1953

    I guess that I don’t visit the Haight often enough. I had already lived in San Francisco for over eight years when Proposition L was passed in 2010. I have NOT ONCE seen the sit-lie ordinance enforced since it was enacted. It is ineffective because it is so rarely enforced. 7,300 times in one year averages to 20 violations enforced per day. I routinely see the law violated twice that number of times every day in my normal, very limited travels around the Marina, North Beach, Pacific Heights, Russian Hill, and downtown.

    I know that the Supervisors and the progressives feel that getting elected is like getting anointed. For them, that pesky initiative process is just a nuisance. Let me remind you of the ill-fated Proposition E of 2011, wherein the Board sought the power to repeal initiatives. This was defeated, not just by the mere 7% margin by which Prop L passed, but by a better than 2-to-1 margin. In electoral political science, that’s called a mandate.

    Proposition L wasn’t designed to help or hurt the homeless — it was designed to protect ordinary citizens from nuisances. The Police Department may or may not like it that they have to enforce this law, but it is their duty to do so. They may try to institute a policy of making enforcement of the law a low priority, but their discretion in this regard is not absolute and they are ultimately, if not directly, answerable to the voters. The Justice Department can issue all the pronouncements it wants, but none of them have the force of law,

    My message to the Board of Supervisors and SFPD: keep enforcing Proposition L. You really don’t have the legal authority to do otherwise. Should either of you overstep your authority and attempt to put the vision of the anointed above the will of the voters, you will be held to answer for it both legally and politically.