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Separate groups gather to protest, support San Francisco's appeal of encampment sweeps injunction

San Francisco's appeal of encampment sweeps injunction draws out supporters, protesters
San Francisco's appeal of encampment sweeps injunction draws out supporters, protesters 03:29

SAN FRANCISCO — The longstanding battle over homelessness in San Francisco spilled onto the streets outside of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals as city leaders fought to have a federal judge overturn an injunction that prohibits clearing of homeless encampments on city streets.

A decision won't be made for months, but a significant compromise was made between the two sides to allow clearing encampments of people who have been offered housing but refuse.

"If you refuse or if you already have shelter elsewhere, you should not be considered to be involuntarily homeless. That was a major concession," city attorney David Chiu told reporters outside the courthouse.

Hundreds of people spanning each side of the argument showed up to the courthouse at 9 a.m. – at times their voices clashing chanting to save or sweep the streets.

James Jackson is an example of the people who are at the center of the debate. He used to live on the corner of 5th and Kearny.

Also Read: Homeless encampment sweeps are just one aspect of a system not working for SF residents

"In the freezing rain, in the snow, I would wait in a long a line that went all the way around the block just to get a plate of food. Then, I had to wait till the sun goes down so I can find a place I can sleep without somebody trying to hurt me," Jackson told CBS News Bay Area.

Today, he lives in public housing across the street from the court of appeals where a three-panel judge heard arguments from the city and from attorneys representing the Coalition on Homelessness and the ACLU over whether to overturn an injunction that, for now, restricts the city from moving unhoused people off city sidewalks.

The city feels its hands are tied dealing with an issue that drives away businesses and has left residents fearing for their safety.

"This city is being taken advantage of and we are tired of it," said Mayor London Breed at a rally ahead of the hearing.

But Jackson said forcing unhoused people to flee a temporary encampment doesn't help the greater housing issue.

"If you can find me a better place to live, I'll go with you," he explained. "But you walk around here and take it from me, that's not going to help."

At the center of the debate is whether the city has enough infrastructure to house the people whose encampments are being swept away. According to city data, roughly 3,400 people sleep in shelters each night, while about 4,400 people sleep on city streets.

Housing advocacy groups said the city is not equipped to provide more shelter and therefore should not be forcing people out of encampments.

"When the public is rightfully frustrated with the homelessness crisis and it's getting worse, we have to look at what the city is doing," Zal Shroff, counsel for the lawyer's committee for civil rights, told CBS News Bay Area. "It's moving the problem from block to block rather than providing the housing and shelter that they need."

But the city said it often encounters people who refuse housing options.

"You only need to look outside the windows of this courthouse to see what the impact has been," said Chiu.

He explained the two sides came to a significant compromise in how to handle people who may choose to live on the street, but the impact may not be seen for weeks, maybe months. That compromise allows encampment sweeps of people who they deem to be voluntarily unhoused or have refused shelter options.

For Jackson, his housing solution is only temporary. But he's grateful for the roof over his head.

"[We want to be] treated like human beings," said Jackson. "There are some who have problems. But they're solvable. Did you ever try talking to them and say, 'Hey, what do you really need?'"

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