Tents in the Tenderloin sheltering homeless people were the subject of a lawsuit filed by UC Hastings. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Tents in the Tenderloin sheltering homeless people were the subject of a lawsuit filed by UC Hastings. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

UC Hastings agrees to settlement in lawsuit against SF over homeless tents in the Tenderloin

City to remove 300 tents from the neighborhood by July 20

San Francisco announced a settlement Friday of a lawsuit filed by University of California, Hastings College of the Law over Tenderloin homeless encampments that will require The City to remove 300 tents within weeks.

The settlement agreement, which must still be approved by the Board of Supervisors, was jointly announced Friday by Mayor London Breed and UC Hastings.

The City will remove 300 tents from the Tenderloin by July 20, about 70 percent of the total number of tents counted in the neighborhood on June 5, as part of the settlement agreement. The City will relocate those living in tents into hotel rooms or to sites where people are allowed to live outside in tents in what are called safe sleeping villages.

The City will also put measures in place to ensure people do not set up tents again in the areas where the tents were removed. Exactly what measures The City will take were not specified, but city officials said Thursday there were discussions with Public Works and the San Francisco Police Department on how to achieve them.

However, Breed previously announced on Thursday a package of police reforms in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis that called for an end to using police to respond to homelessness. Instead, she said The City should rely on outreach workers. It is unclear how or when that reform will be implemented.

UC Hastings and other merchants and Tenderloin residents filed the lawsuit on May 4 over increased homeless encampments and worsening street conditions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of tents in the Tenderloin, which comprises less than 50 square blocks, had more than tripled to exceed 400. City officials blame the increase in part on having to reduce occupancy of homeless shelters by 75 percent to comply with social distancing requirements.

The agreement also said The City may turn to enforcement measures if people living in the 300 tents do not accept an offer to relocate.

“While The City is hopeful that most people offered an alternative location will be willing to accept the opportunity, The City will employ enforcement measures for those who do not accept an offer of shelter or safe sleeping site if necessary to comply with the stipulated injunction,” the announcement said.

After July 20, The City “will make all reasonable efforts” to reduce “tents, along with all other encamping materials and related personal property, to zero,” the agreement said.

The announced settlement comes a day after Supervisor Matt Haney held a Board of Supervisors committee hearing on Breed’s “Tenderloin Plan” for addressing the conditions of the neighborhood, which she unveiled shortly after the lawsuit was filed. City officials announced their plan to move 300 homeless people into hotel rooms within weeks at this hearing, but did not mention it was related to the settlement.

Breed said in a statement, “We look forward to working collaboratively to implement the Stipulated Injunction so we help our unsheltered residents off the streets and into safer environments.”

UC Hastings Chancellor Dean David Faigman said in a statement that “the key is providing housing and shelter alternatives, including hotels and safe sleeping villages, for those currently having no alternative but to live in sidewalk encampments.”

Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness, criticized the agreement for failing to address needs of thousands of homeless who would still have nowhere to shelter-in-place indoors.

“We are interested in solutions to homelessness. Hastings is not,” Friedenbach said. “Taking down tents in the middle of a pandemic without ensuring unhoused people have an opportunity to shelter in place in, say, vacant hotel rooms is dangerous and irresponsible.”

The City currently only allows those who are over the age of 60 or with underlying health conditions who were also in San Francisco prior to April, a chance to move into a hotel room. Haney has called this criteria overly restrictive.

“The City estimates that approximately 30 percent of people currently living in tents in the Tenderloin will be eligible for an [shelter-in-place] hotel room,” the agreement said.

Haney has called on The City to address the challenges of the Tenderloin since the pandemic began and has criticized Breed for not more urgently addressing the issue. He and his colleagues passed a law that required The City to secure 7,000 hotel rooms for the homeless population, but The City has not complied. There are currently about 1,200 homeless persons in hotel rooms and 1,757 total hotel rooms with another 496 “in preparation,” according to data on the Department of Public Health website.

“Bringing people inside with services, mostly into hotel rooms, following the law passed by the board, should absolutely be the primary strategy,” Haney said. “It shouldn’t have taken a lawsuit to get The City to follow the law, but to the extent this lawsuit actually forced the mayor and the Department of Homelessness to take this crisis seriously and bring people inside, that’s a good thing.”

“The conditions right now in the Tenderloin are totally inhumane and unconscionable,” he said.


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