Settlement Reached in San Francisco Homeless Lawsuit

A man lies on the sidewalk in San Francisco on April 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Ben Margot, File)

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — A group of residents and merchants in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district have settled their lawsuit blaming the the city for street conditions that have made their neighborhood unlivable.

Under a stipulated agreement filed Friday, the city of San Francisco will remove up to 300 tents and homeless encampments by July 20, and relocate their occupants to hotel rooms, parking lots or “safe sleeping villages” outside the Tenderloin.

The city will also discourage people from erecting tents on the sidewalk.

“After July 20, 2020, the City will make all reasonable efforts to achieve the shared goal of permanently reducing the number of tents, along with all other encamping materials and related personal property, to zero,” the settlement says.

The city estimates that approximately 30% of people living in tents in the Tenderloin are eligible for a hotel room.

A statement from Mayor London Breed’s office said the city will “employ enforcement measures” to make sure it holds up its end of the deal.

In exchange, the neighborhood residents will drop their lawsuit, filed in May, which accused the city of using the area “as a containment zone, tolerating everything from blatant drug dealing to open-air injection drug use to filthy sidewalks that wouldn’t stand in wealthier parts of town.”

The group was led by the Tenderloin Merchants Association and the University of California Hastings School of Law, which is situated in the heart of the misery on McAllister Street.

In their complaint, the school noted that students who decline admission to Hastings “often cite the neighborhood as a significant factor in their decisions.” A group of 150 students and alumni opposed the lawsuit in an open letter, arguing that it only invited the city to increase policing in the area.

The school said it has spent around $66,000 on extra security and sidewalk cleaning since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, after shelters and navigation centers closed their doors to the needy amidst fears that they could become vectors for disease with too many people sleeping within close proximity to one another.

This is one factor that led to an explosion of tents in the area, along with the attendant drug use, human waste and debris that has effectively foreclosed the use of the sidewalk for residents. The area has also become the site of an open-air drug market.

“Since the emergence of the COVID-19 virus, I have watched in dismay and with growing horror as the conditions in the Tenderloin have deteriorated past a point that I had ever considered possible. These last few months have been frightening and frustrating, but I’m hopeful about the agreement that has been reached,” said Kristen Villalobos, who lives in the Tenderloin and took part in the lawsuit.

“I look forward to seeing the City take meaningful action to address both the temporary escalated crisis created by the pandemic, and the crisis conditions that already existed on our Tenderloin streets before it came along. It will take long-term solutions, but I know that these problems can be solved if we have the courage and the will to see it through. I love my neighborhood, and I look forward to working with the City in any way I may to continue ensuring a better life for everyone who calls the Tenderloin home.”

“It would be nice to get some space back,” said fellow plaintiff Randy Hughes, who uses a wheelchair.

The city has acquired 2,373 hotel rooms and RVs for “vulnerable populations,” of which 1,291 rooms and 81 vehicles are occupied, according to current city data. A “safe sleeping village” consisting of some 50 tents in a fenced-in parking lot between the Asian Art museum and the San Francisco Public Library opened in early May.

Another camp was set up in the Bayview by a local non-profit, and the city has plans to open another 40-tent site at a former McDonald’s parking lot in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. The city-sanctioned sites are meant to be temporary.

“So while in normal times I would say that we should focus on bringing people inside and not sanctioning tent encampments, we frankly do not have many other options right now. Having places with resources serving people in the neighborhood is better than unsanctioned encampments,” Breed tweeted on May 15.

While business owners in the Haight have pushed back against the planned encampment in their own lawsuit, they withdrew it on Friday.

The Tenderloin lawsuit will resume if not approved by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors within three months of being signed by a federal judge.

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