Michael Shellenberger, the founder of non-profit organisation Public, argues that the ACLU and homeless activists are abusing the court system to create chaos and death on the streets. He claims that San Francisco’s progressive policies have made it one of the most inclusive cities in the world, yet the ACLU’s lawsuit paints a different picture.
Shellenberger claims that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling in Robert Martin v. City of Boise, which prohibited the government from forcing the homeless to vacate a public space if there is no shelter available, has left San Francisco officials confused as to how to manage the mounting street addiction crisis.
He notes that San Francisco residents feel besieged by the city’s homeless, rather than the other way around, and have been subject to random street harassment. Homeless people have also been the cause of fires in the area.
Shellenberger’s conclusion is that the ACLU is pursuing an agenda that has alienated even its own progressive supporters, and he has labelled it a “Pathological Victimocracy”.
ACLU and homeless activists are abusing the court system to create chaos and death on the streets
If you had never heard of San Francisco before and you read the ACLU’s 2022 lawsuit against the city, which the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals heard last Wednesday, you might think you were reading about a small Mississippi town in the 1960s. “San Francisco has a long history of operationalizing the law to ensure that the City remains as white as possible,” the complaint reads. “It seeks to erase any trace of unhoused people from public space, reflecting a deep ‘disdain for visible poverty,’” it claims elsewhere.
You might be surprised, then, to learn that the complaint describes one of the most progressive cities on earth, a city that budgeted nearly $850 million on homelessness services, which is roughly $100,000 per every homeless person in the city, during the current fiscal year. Half of that money goes to permanent housing for people living on the streets. You might be perplexed when you hear from homeless people who tell Public, that “if you’re going to be homeless, it’s pretty fucking easy here…I mean if we’re gonna be realistic, they pay you to be homeless here.”
As such, if San Francisco is trying to “erase” homeless people, it couldn’t be doing a more ineffectual job. Encampments have spread to all but the toniest neighborhoods in the city, bringing petty crime and random street harassment along with it. A Venezuelan immigrant I spoke to, who once had to fend off a homeless man who threatened to beat her dog to death for no reason, told me that her neighborhood, the affluent Marina District, feels more dangerous than Caracas.
The ACLU’s suit, filed on behalf of the Coalition on Homelessness and seven homeless individuals, claims that San Francisco has long violated the constitutional rights of its unhoused residents by directing people who are sleeping on the streets for lack of any other place to go to pack up their tents and move along.
The allegation is based on an earlier Ninth Circuit ruling in Robert Martin v. City of Boise — a very different city from San Francisco, where at the time of the ruling, homeless people could be counted in the dozens rather than in the thousands — which ruled that the government cannot force the homeless to vacate a public space if there is no shelter space available to them.
Last December, a federal judge agreed with the ACLU and the Coalition on Homelessness and issued an injunction that prohibited San Francisco from enforcing its laws against sleeping on the street.
The injunction left city officials confused as to what they were and what they were not allowed to do in order to manage San Francisco’s mounting street addiction crisis. The ruling prohibited the city from sweeping encampments of the “involuntarily homeless.”
But if the city offers shelter to a homeless person and that person refuses it, is their homeless condition still “involuntary,” or is it now a choice? Can that person be kicked off the sidewalk, or is the city prohibited from sweeping any encampment until there are shelter beds available for every unsheltered homeless person in the city? It wasn’t even clear if police officers could stand around a homeless encampment or if that would constitute intimidation.
The City Attorney appealed the injunction, and last Wednesday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments from both sides. Outside the courtroom, hundreds of protesters gathered in opposition to the injunction, including the Mayor and four members of the Board of Supervisors. Some held signs calling for the defunding of the Coalition on Homelessness. A much smaller number of people gathered on the sidelines to show their support for the injunction and for the ACLU.
Regardless of what the various judges conclude, to an increasing number of San Franciscans, the picture the ACLU’s lawsuit paints of their city is an upside-down version of what the situation actually looks like on the streets outside their front doors.
San Francisco residents feel besieged by the city’s homeless rather than the other way around. Neighbors, including one sixth-grader, have been attacked by mentally ill homeless people on the street. Homeless people have exposed their genitals to pedestrians and had sex in plain view of school children.
A massive fire that engulfed a construction site a few weeks ago was most likely started by homeless people in a nearby encampment. Neighbors had written a letter to the city months before, demanding that measures be taken to put a stop to a series of fires started in the proximity of tent encampments, but were told that nothing could be done due to the injunction.
Why is that? Why is ACLU pursuing an agenda that is alienating even its own progressive supporters?