How the Court of Appeals Ruling on Homeless Impacts San Francisco

A federal appeals court has found cities cannot criminalize homeless people for sleeping or camping in public places if there is no shelter available.

In San Francisco, the city attorney's office said elements of the ruling are already in place. Homeless advocates said the ruling opens the door to re-examine all laws affecting the homeless.

"We see it as good news because there are a myriad of laws that area really hurtful that are used toward homeless people," said Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director for the Coalition on Homelessness.

Friedenbach said while so-called sit-lie ordinances are not frequently enforced in the city, other homeless laws are. In addition, shelters or centers are not a good fit for everyone, Friedenbach said.

"Sometimes the city does it right, but that's a rare occassion," she said. "We want to see in all these situations the city approaching encampments in an effective way."

The San Francisco City Attorney's Office provided the following statement:

"We're analyzing the ruling to see if it may have implications for San Francisco. Aspects of this ruling are already reflected in laws we have on the books."

The City Attorney's Office noted that voters approved the sidewalk tent ban, and before removing, the city must provide advanced written notice and offer shelter or housing placement, and no criminal sanctions.

Hadar Aviram, a UC Hastings law professor, points out the San Francisco ordinance only applies to certain places and hours, which could make the decision less relevant in the city.

"I think that the city is trying to make changes not necessarily because of this, but because the situation is untenable and we're just shooting in all directions."

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