San Francisco’s APEC Cleanup Hasn’t ‘Fixed’ Its Homelessness Problem

“there’s the one homelessness problem experienced by the homeless themselves through a lack of housing. Then there’s the other homelessness problem experienced by the public generally through exposure to a bunch of vagrancy and disorderly behavior spilling out into streets because of that lack of homes.
San Francisco’s APEC cleanup did nothing to address the first homelessness problem, which is what the local homeless advocates are complaining about. The city simply moved some homeless people from one area of the city to another. Some have plausibly ended up inside homeless shelters or less visible spots on the street. But, the number of homeless people in the city remains as high as ever.

San Francisco did make some progress on the second homelessness problem by dismantling tent encampments, replacing people on the streets with flower boxes, and creating a heavily policed security cordon covering a few city blocks.

Even still, the city hardly “fixed” its second homelessness problem. It just shifted encampments and vagrant behavior away from the downtown.”

“San Francisco is one of the richest cities in the free world. Its residents shouldn’t have to choose between a degraded quality of life that comes with thousands of people living on the streets and an aggressive police state that keeps those thousands of homeless out of sight and out of mind.
Escaping that unhappy tradeoff would require the city, and the surrounding region, to radically liberalize housing construction.

That would bring housing prices down and bring a lot more people inside. That wouldn’t solve everyone’s problems, but it would mean a lot of dysfunctional behavior playing out in public will instead move behind closed doors.

A less overwhelmed San Francisco city government (and voluntary philanthropic actors) could also more judiciously deal with those remaining people that insist on pitching a tent in the park or smoking meth on the street.”

https://reason.com/2023/11/14/san-franciscos-apec-cleanup-hasnt-fixed-its-homelessness-problem/

Cities are asking the Supreme Court for more power to clear homeless encampments

“In 2018, a federal court issued a consequential decision about homelessness in America: People without housing can’t be punished for sleeping or camping outside on public property if there are no adequate shelter alternatives available.
The Ninth Circuit’s decision, Martin v. Boise, said that punishing homeless people with no other place to go would violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. Ever since, cities and states have struggled to comply with it, crafting convoluted policies like a new camping ban in Portland, Oregon that prohibits homeless camping during the hours of 8 am to 8 pm.

As municipal backlash to Martin grew, so has the nation’s homelessness crisis, especially in the nine Western states under the Ninth Circuit’s jurisdiction, where some 42 percent of the country’s homeless population now lives.

The Supreme Court declined to hear Martin in 2019. But they now could reconsider the decision. A petition was filed in late August concerning a similar case in Grants Pass, Oregon, a city of 38,000 people. In 2022, the Ninth Circuit decided it would be unconstitutional for Grants Pass to fine homeless people sleeping on public property if there was nowhere else for them to go. The city is challenging that decision.”

https://www.vox.com/2023/10/10/23905951/homeless-tent-encampments-grants-pass-martin-boise-unsheltered-housing

Inside the power struggle between California politicians and judges on homelessness

“California politicians have been unable to make meaningful headway on a deteriorating homelessness crisis, and the conflict has shifted to a new arena out of their control: courtrooms. A series of rulings in California and beyond has barred cities from clearing encampments even as mayors are contending with lawsuits that accuse them of failing to do so. Sacramento’s top prosecutor hit the city with such a complaint, and Los Angeles spent years in legal limbo after a judge ordered the city and county to shelter every person in a sprawling encampment.”

https://www.politico.com/news/2023/10/04/california-homelessness-crisis-judges-00119504

Newsom urges SCOTUS to consider encampment ruling that has ‘paralyzed’ California cities

“Gov. Gavin Newsom is pressing the U.S. Supreme Court to review a controversial ruling that has prevented cities from clearing homeless encampments.
In a brief filed to the high court Friday, Newsom’s office warned a ruling invalidating anti-camping ordinances in Grants Pass, Ore. had “paralyzed” cities around California by imposing an “insurmountable roadblock” that effectively bars cities from moving people from parks and sidewalks.”

https://www.politico.com/news/2023/09/22/newsom-scotus-encampment-california-00117762

Declaring a ‘Right’ to Housing Won’t Solve Homelessness

“If a property owner can’t properly vet tenants and potentially can’t evict them, then they aren’t going to invest in or rent out apartments. They certainly aren’t going to make repairs to houses lived in by non-paying tenants, which will make the housing stock less adequate. We need more housing, not less, and such edicts discourage housing investment.”

The little-noticed court decision that changed homelessness in America

“Five years ago, a federal court issued a crucial ruling. People experiencing homelessness, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said, can’t be punished for sleeping outside on public property if there are no adequate alternatives available.
The 2018 decision in Martin v. Boise did not create the homelessness crisis, which researchers attribute primarily to the lack of affordable housing. The number of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness — meaning those sleeping on the streets, in parks, in abandoned buildings or train stations, or anywhere not meant for humans to live — was rising before the decision.

But as the number of unsheltered homeless people continued to grow over the past half-decade, the Martin decision has become a pivotal factor in shaping how cities respond to the very visible problem of tent encampments, particularly on the West Coast. While the case never gained huge name recognition, it undergirds the policy and politics of homelessness in 2023. So much of the fight about how to address homelessness today is, at this point, a fight about Martin.”

“Martin’s impact can be seen most clearly out West. Just before Christmas 2022, for example, a district judge cited Martin when she ruled that San Francisco can no longer enforce encampment sweeps — meaning clear out homeless individuals and their property from an outdoor area — since the city lacks enough shelter beds for those experiencing homelessness to move into. San Francisco appealed the decision, arguing it’s “unnecessarily broad and has put the City in an impossible situation.”

In Phoenix, Arizona, residents and business owners filed a lawsuit last summer against the city for allowing a downtown homeless encampment to grow with nearly 1,000 people, but a federal judge — echoing Martin — barred Phoenix in December from conducting sweeps if there are more homeless people than shelter beds available. A competing decision issued in March by a state judge ordered Phoenix officials to clean up the “public nuisance” at the encampment by July 10, arguing the city has “erroneously” applied Martin to date.

In Portland, Oregon, meanwhile, officials have scrambled to revise their local camping ordinance to be a “daytime” camping ban from 8 am to 8 pm instead, in recognition that any total camping ban is likely illegal under Martin.

Supporters of a more “get tough” approach to encampments say the social and political costs of allowing tent cities to proliferate are too high, and that waiting for cities to build enough new housing before acting is untenable, both morally and politically. Some think officials are getting complacent in relying on Martin as an excuse to maintain the status quo.”

“Unsheltered homelessness has risen sharply over the last seven years, and at a faster rate than homelessness overall. Unsheltered homeless people now account for 40 percent of all homeless people in the country, up from 31 percent in 2015.

Political pressure has mounted to respond to this growing problem of people sleeping in alleys, parks, and train stations. While it’s not clear this would be legal under Martin, a number of cities have turned to the idea of so-called sanctioned encampments, or legalized campsites. These are effectively designated areas where unhoused individuals can live outside, and some come with varying degrees of public services, like bathrooms, power outlets, medical care, and on-site case management.

In Portland, Oregon, lawmakers voted in November to create several large sanctioned campsites for homeless individuals, and ban the more than 700 other encampments spread across the city. Austin, Texas, has operated one sanctioned encampment of so-called “tiny homes” since 2019, on a seven-acre plot of asphalt near the airport. Denver, Colorado, is also moving to make its so-called “managed campsites” from the pandemic a permanent homelessness response tool.

The trade-off for legalized campsites, however, is that sleeping outside anywhere else in a city would then be illegal.”

“Some advocates have taken a firm stance against the idea; they see sanctioned encampments as a means to segregate and criminalize unhoused people and effectively kick the can down the road by not finding them permanent housing.”

“other cities with fewer available housing options say sanctioned encampments represent a decent interim solution, and maybe even better for unhoused residents compared to scattered campsites if cities can more effectively target social services to those corralled together.

Legalized campsites can also have a lower barrier to entry than many existing shelters, so supporters are framing them as a harm-reduction approach to homelessness.”

Homeless encampments — and the debate over what to do about them — explained

“Unsheltered homelessness, meaning sleeping somewhere at night that’s not primarily designed for human residence — like a car, a park, an abandoned building, or a train station — has risen sharply over the last seven years, and at a faster rate than homelessness overall. The unsheltered homeless now account for 40 percent of all homeless people in the country, up from 31 percent in 2015.
While encampments are most common in big cities, on the West Coast, and in areas with high housing costs, tents have also sprung up in places where housing is broadly available and homelessness is going down — like Houston, which saw a 63 percent drop in homelessness since 2011 but still has hundreds of encampments throughout the region.”

““Mayor [Sylvester] Turner believes addressing tent encampments is key to maintaining support for the housing-first model because the public didn’t believe with their own eyes that homelessness was actually decreasing in the city,” said Marc Eichenbaum, the special assistant to Houston’s mayor on homeless initiatives. In the past few years, Houston leaders have “decommissioned” 59 tent encampments, including the city’s largest last month. In Washington, DC, Mayor Muriel Bowser stressed that her support for encampment clearing was rooted in her commitment to the housing-first model.

“I could build half a million units of housing,” newly elected Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass told the Los Angeles Times, “and if there are still tents, people will not believe that you did anything except to steal their money.””

“researchers say the primary cause is a lack of affordable housing, stemming from both a shortage of units, and from rents rising faster than wages. They say encampments have also increased because people can’t access shelter beds, or have objections to the requirements at local shelters, like the need to relinquish their pets and personal belongings. Other people see tent encampments as offering more opportunity for privacy and safety than shelters.

Some encampments have established governance procedures and residents take on day-to-day responsibilities, while others are more informal and more fractious. Though inhabitants have a diverse range of ages, races, and gender, research suggests most tend to be men with multiple barriers to housing like mental illness, a history of evictions, or a criminal record.

In recent years, court rulings have made it more difficult for cities, especially on the West Coast, to clear encampments. In 2018, the US Ninth Circuit Court found people experiencing homelessness can’t be punished for sleeping outside on public property if there are no adequate alternatives available.

The decision only formally applies across the West, in areas under the Ninth Circuit’s jurisdiction, but when the US Supreme Court declined to hear this case, Martin v. City of Boise, in 2019, cities nationally were left to debate how they can respond to encampments in ways that will avoid new constitutional challenges. Boise says that as long as sleeping indoors is not an option, “the government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property, on the false premise they had a choice in the matter.””

“City responses have typically fallen into four broad categories, ranging from quickly “sweeping” the tents and providing no services to the unsheltered living there, to formally permitting people to camp out, and even providing bathrooms, areas to prepare food, and other social services. HUD research published in 2020 found the most common strategy cities have embraced was encampment “clearance and closure with support” — meaning deploying trained outreach workers to provide people with weeks of notice that their encampment would be shutting down, working to connect them with housing and services, and making longer-term storage of their belongings available.”

“Earlier studies have suggested that clearance with no support, or a so-called “tough love” approach, does little to drive people to shelters or mitigate the broader problem of encampments. Typically the homeless often just pick up and relocate somewhere else nearby. “Clearance with little or no support may actually reduce the likelihood that people will seek shelter because it erodes trust and creates an adversarial relationship between people experiencing homelessness and law enforcement or outreach workers,” a HUD report published in 2019 concluded.”

“Amid growing community frustration, some leaders have started to pursue tougher measures on encampments, including ramping up criminal penalties on people pitching tents on public land. In at least half a dozen states, lawmakers have pushed bills based on templates from the Cicero Institute, an Austin-based think tank opposed to housing-first. The bills propose to permanently ban tent encampments and penalize cities that permit them.”