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San Francisco facing lawsuit over homeless sweeps

Lawsuit brewing against SF over homeless sweeps
Lawsuit brewing against SF over homeless sweeps 02:15

SAN FRANCISCO - San Francisco is facing a lawsuit over its homeless camp sweeps, with plaintiffs claiming the city is violating a federal law since it can't provide adequate shelter.  

Toro Castano has a matter of days to find a new place to live. If he doesn't, he'll be back on the streets

"Sometimes we would get sick from the lack of sleep from being worn down from being left out in the cold," Castano said as he reflected on his time living on the streets of San Francisco's Castro District.

Castano attended graduate school at the University of Southern California, but has struggled to find work and has navigated a strained relationship with his relatives.

Castano slept in a tent just off of Market Street, where he was dubbed a kind of neighborhood watchmen, making sure the people who lived with them at the encampment were healthy and had what they needed to survive on the street. But Castano said sweeps and cleanups by the city's department of Public Works rattled him and the other unhoused, claiming city crews threw out his persona belongings on three separate occasions.

"(They threw out) clothing that I used to keep warm, blankets that I use to keep warm. It leaves one in a really desperate situation," Castano said.

Advocates say it happens all too often on the streets.

Couper Orona was once a firefighter and medic who ended up homeless after becoming disabled and going through a divorce.

"The last little bits and pieces they have on the earth. You know medication, wheelchairs, crutches... I mean things people need to survive have all been taken from them in front of me numerous, numerous times," Orona said.

Castano is now a plaintiff in a new lawsuit against the city of San Francisco, brought on by the Coalition on Homelessness and attorneys from the ACLU.

The groups allege the city has repeatedly violated the civil rights of unhoused people on San Francisco streets.

Jennifer Friedenbach, the coalition's executive director, called on the city to do more to offer the unhoused suitable housing.

"We want them to stop criminalizing people who have no other choice but to live on the streets and we instead want them to move people in the house as an address the issue permanently."

A spokesperson for the city's attorneys office said in a statement to KPIX 5:

"The City is acutely focused on expanding our temporary shelter and permanent housing options to alleviate our homelessness crisis. Once we are served with the lawsuit, we will review the complaint and respond in court."

Attorneys for the coalition on homelessness say they've asked the judge for an emergency hearing and are hoping that will happen within the next two months.

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