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Amicus Brief from Civic Organizations and Local Leaders Denounces San Francisco for Playing Politics at the US Supreme Court to Cover up the City’s Affordable Housing Failures

Press Release / Last Updated:

San Francisco, Calif.—Today, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area (“LCCRSF”) submitted an amicus curiae brief to the US Supreme Court on behalf of a coalition of current and former San Francisco officials and civic organizations — including the League of Women Voters of California, the League of Women Voters of San Francisco, San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju’s Office, the San Francisco Labor Council, the San Francisco Tenants Union, and at least two dozen others — in the case of City of Grants Pass v. Johnson, the most significant US Supreme Court case regarding the civil rights of homeless people in modern history.  

The amicus brief calls attention to the profound disinformation that San Francisco politicians and California leaders have spread to avoid accountability for failing to deliver on their own data-driven policies to address homelessness — while brutally citing and arresting people just for being too poor to afford a home. The brief asserts that cities across California, including San Francisco, have unfairly scapegoated unhoused residents for an affordable housing crisis that State and local governments created with decades of virulently racist anti-housing policies. As a result, thousands of long-time residents, disproportionately people of color, have been forced onto the streets. Instead of addressing the root causes of the affordable housing crisis as promised, California cities instead punish homeless residents by fining or arresting them for being poor. These archaic practices harken the draconian penalties of Ancient Greece and are a clear violation of the US Constitution.    

The State of California knows better. It has told the Supreme Court that what the City of Grants Pass is doing in Oregon — attempting to jail or forcibly eject all of its unhoused residents just for having nowhere else to sleep — violates decades of Supreme Court precedent. There is no disagreement on this narrow question of law. So why did California politicians press for the Supreme Court to take this case when they agreed with the outcome?

The amicus brief explains how California politicians have used the Grants Pass case to stage a political drama that blames judges for their own failure to address the homelessness crisis. Nothing stops California from investing in affordable housing and emergency shelter for thousands of its residents forced to sleep outside. And nothing stops California from enforcing every applicable health, safety, and other legal restriction to ensure safe conditions on our streets.

Amici were compelled to address the Supreme Court because Californians deserve accountability from their leaders, not excuses and misinformation. The American public also deserves the truth. California politicians cannot arrest themselves out of the housing crisis they created. They must finally deliver on their promise to make housing affordable again for hundreds of thousands of Californians living paycheck to paycheck.  

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Grants Pass on April 22, 2024. Regardless of the outcome, it is imperative that San Francisco and cities across California recognize that true progress cannot be achieved through brutal criminalization policies that do not address the primary driver of homelessness—affordable housing.

Watch a recording of our press conference held on April 2, 2024, here.

Read the amicus brief here.

Organizational Statements:

Alison Goh, President of the League of Women Voters of San Francisco: “For decades, the League of Women Voters San Francisco has advocated for nonpartisan, commonsense solutions that strengthen our democracy. San Francisco’s housing-first policies are those solutions. But they must be implemented. Government accountability is the cornerstone of democracy. The League cannot stand by and allow the city to arrest unhoused San Franciscans—many of whom are women and are survivors of domestic violence—just for being unhoused. The city must accelerate delivery on its commitments to expand affordable housing and shelter—not vilify our neighbors in need of a home.”

Zal K. Shroff, Acting Legal Director, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area: “San Francisco’s approach to the Supreme Court is nothing but political theatre. There is no dispute on what the Constitution requires. The City agrees it is brutal, cruel, and unusual to jail the homeless and call it housing policy. Instead, the City has concocted its “confusion” about a simple doctrine to avoid accountability for lying to taxpayers about citing, fining, and arresting people whose only crime is being visibly poor. This political gamesmanship sets us back from actually delivering on an end to street homelessness—which is what all San Franciscans deserve.”

Kim Tavaglione, Executive Director, San Francisco Labor Council: “Instead of confronting the astronomical cost of living, San Francisco has stigmatized those priced out of their homes, painting them as opportunistic vagrants. This narrative is not just false; it’s a disservice to hardworking Californians. It’s time to break the cycle of blame and punishment and establish California as a state where working people can afford to pay rent without constantly facing the threat of homelessness and criminalization.”

Kaki Marshall-Bird, Former SF Director of Temporary Shelter: “Having worked for the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing in San Francisco, I’ve witnessed firsthand the profound gap between the City’s stated intentions and outcomes on homelessness—with brutal results. Rather than delivering on proven solutions for affordable housing, the city chooses to waste taxpayer money on handcuffing people who have nowhere else to turn for shelter or housing because we still do not have any to offer. It’s high time for accountability and for the city to listen to the voices of the people demanding genuine solutions.”  

Chesa Boudin, Former District Attorney of San Francisco: “San Francisco stands at a critical juncture in addressing homelessness with both the resources and opportunity to expand shelters, transitional housing, and essential services. Yet, finger-pointing, indifference, and flawed practices have derailed our progress. San Francisco needs to follow its own policies. But that has nothing to do with the case before the Supreme Court. California’s leaders agree that what Grants Pass has done—jailing poor residents just because they cannot afford housing—is brutal, cruel and unusual.”  

Small Business Forward: “We support a non-carceral response that restores the business and protects the dignity of workers, youths, and those surviving poverty and addiction. Criminalizing people who are unsheltered outside is extraordinarily expensive and not a humane solution— it only perpetuates cycles of poverty and desperation. We need the City to commit as much to affordable housing and shelter as they have to policing those who are struggling in the current economic conditions.”

Jeffrey Kwong, President, Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club San Francisco: “The courts have repeatedly said ‘No’ to London Breed. She must do her job instead of obfuscating and playing politics. Stop the blame game and gaslighting the people of San Francisco. In the 1970s, San Francisco police began using sit/lie rules of the time to arrest and harass gay men coming out of bars in the Castro. Harvey Milk stood against those threats to constitutional and civil rights then and we continue to support the court’s holding that criminalizing unhoused individuals for merely sitting, sleeping, or lying in public is an affront to basic human rights.”-

Prof. Jeffrey Selbin, UC Berkeley School of Law: “California officials who say they are “powerless” to deal with the homelessness crisis are being disingenuous. They can provide shelter and build affordable housing, they can enforce all health and safety laws, and they can address encampments. What they cannot do is punish unhoused people for their mere presence in public and call it housing policy, which is unfortunately the path San Francisco has taken. All San Franciscans, housed and unhoused, have every right to be exasperated by this remarkable waste of resources.”

Angela Chan, Assistant Chief Attorney, San Francisco Public Defender’s Office: “San Francisco’s enforcement actions against hundreds of unhoused residents, punishing them simply for seeking shelter, not only violates constitutional rights but also underscores the city’s failure to confront its affordable housing shortage. The solution to homelessness doesn’t lie in punishment; incarceration will never solve the underlying issues of unaffordable housing and a severe shortage of shelter and services.”

Central City Hospitality House: “As an organization that operates a shelter program, we understand firsthand the pressing needs of the unhoused community and what strategies yield results. Namely: increased availability of, and access to, safe shelter options, and increased affordable housing exits from shelter. It’s frustrating to witness the city prioritizing costly and unsuccessful efforts like criminalizing homelessness, when individuals are left with no other options for shelter. With the highest number of anti-homeless laws, some of the least available emergency shelter, and some of the worst affordable housing options in the nation, San Francisco must prioritize resources for shelter and housing, not criminalization and law enforcement. We stand united in urging the City to acknowledge its flawed approach and embrace what truly works—compassionate and effective solutions that address the housing affordability issues at the heart of the homelessness crisis.”

Brandon Greene, Director of Policy Advocacy, Western Center on Law and Poverty: “The homelessness crisis and the accompanying response are the results of decades long, deliberate policy decisions steeped in anti-Blackness. Black codes, vagrancy laws, redlining, were all policy decisions that resulted in the criminalization Black Americans and the racialized wealth extraction that leaves them vulnerable to ever increasing increases in the costs of living. These racialized polices have been proven to not work in lowering or eliminating houselessness, instead they only exacerbate their vulnerability of those impacted. These policies demonize and scapegoat which increases animus and thwarts efforts to enact proven housing-first solutions.”

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