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UC Hastings students, alumni warn lawsuit could increase police force against unhoused

SFPD officers speak with unhoused residents on Sixth Street, near Market. | Photos: Carrie Sisto/Hoodline
By Carrie Sisto - Published on June 01, 2020.

On May 4, the UC Hastings College of Law sued the City and County of San Francisco over issues of street cleanliness, open-air drug dealing and homelessness in the Tenderloin. The college was joined in the suit by a coalition of Tenderloin residents, business owners, and neighborhood advocates.

Now, the lawsuit is getting pushback from a coalition of 150 UC Hastings alumni and students. In an open letter to dean and chancellor David Faigman, they argue that the lawsuit is too focused on clearing sidewalks, not housing those living on the streets. 

"Not everyone associated with UC Hastings agrees with the lawsuit," said Abel Mouton, a current student who's helping to organize the coalition.

Mouton says the lawsuit does assert the rights of people experiencing homelessness to housing and medical services at public expense. But it's buried as the 11th of 14 total complaints, with top billing given to clearing sidewalks. 

Should the city settle the suit — which seeks no financial damages beyond legal fees — advocates say the unhoused are the ones likely to be punished, through encampment sweeps and police pressure. 

“We want whatever '[clearing of] the sidewalks' that takes place to result not from the police forcing the houseless and their tents into empty parking lots, but from putting people in hotel rooms,” Mouton said. "It's absurd that this hasn't happened yet."

The sidewalks on Cedar Alley between Polk and Larkin streets are impassable.

The letter was sent to Dean Faigman last Thursday, before this weekend’s imposition of a citywide curfew. Mouton said the Dean has acknowledged receipt of the letter, but has not yet responded.

Deborah Mallgrave, the attorney representing the plaintiffs and UC Hastings, said they cannot comment on the letter or the status of the lawsuit, due to a mediation confidentiality order from the judge assigned to the case.

Campers at Willow and Larkin streets in the Tenderloin. | Photo: Carrie Sisto/Hoodline

As part of their protest, the student and alumni group are encouraging UC Hastings to support the Do No Harm Coalition’s COVID-19 plan for unhoused people. Developed by UCSF medical staff, the Coalition on Homelessness, Glide, and SF Rising, it outlines ways to provide housing, healthcare, harm reduction, and drug treatment services for those living on the streets.

Mouton noted the city has already spent money on other attempted interventions and that the Board of Supervisors had already requested the city to relocate the unhoused into hotel rooms during the pandemic.

For the first few months of the pandemic, however, the Mayor’s office spent $6,000/week to guard an empty lot, even as homeless campers filled the surrounding sidewalks. (Officials opened the lot to eight campers last week, without on-site sanitation services; they continue to pay for the guards.)

Meanwhile, the SF Public Press recently reported that the city spent nearly $500,000 on recreational vehicles to shelter the unhoused during the pandemic — none of which were ever used.

It's possible that the group's petition will fall on deaf ears; a video settlement conference between the plaintiffs and representatives of the City and County of San Francisco is already set to take place today at 1 p.m.

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