Just How Bad is the Homeless Problem if Even Progressive Newsom Wants Them Cleared out of San Francisco? 

mikeledray / shutterstock.com
mikeledray / shutterstock.com

On Tuesday, Governor Gavin Newsom of California declared that the state would step in to address an ongoing federal court case imposing restrictions on San Francisco’s ability to clear homeless encampments until more shelter beds become available. In an interview with news outlet Politico, Newsom asserted that the judge’s actions have crossed a line and are obstructing the state’s efforts to resolve a pressing and crucial issue. 

Previously, he criticized U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna Ryu in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, but he had not revealed his administration’s intention to file an amicus brief supporting the city’s efforts to challenge the ruling. 

Back in December, Ryu granted an injunction following arguments from homeless advocates who claimed that the city was violating the law by clearing homeless encampments without providing shelter and improperly discarding people’s belongings, including cell phones and medication. 

Democratic leaders in San Francisco have strongly opposed her decision and recently made their case in an appellate court for a reversal. They contend that the ruling has made it exceedingly difficult to address the city’s street cleanliness issues, with more individuals refusing shelter even when it’s accessible. 

Newsom, the former San Francisco mayor, shared that he personally took part in efforts to clean up three encampments near San Francisco. However, he explained that his team prevented him from addressing a fourth encampment due to a court ruling. On a broader scale, Newsom expressed his concerns about federal judges interpreting a court ruling from Boise, Idaho, in a way that he deemed “perverse.” This ruling stated that cities cannot prosecute individuals for sleeping on the streets if they have nowhere else to go. 

Previously, the governor had criticized Ryu in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle but, at the time, did not reveal his administration’s intention to file an amicus brief supporting the city’s efforts to challenge the ruling. 

Newsom’s heated reaction follows a 4-alarm fire early Tuesday morning. While the cause of the fire hasn’t been officially released, residents of San Francisco’s Hayes Valley said they have repeatedly complained to authorities that the homeless light open fires to keep warm. 

On Tuesday, Newsom announced the state’s intention to step in and act in an ongoing federal court case. This legal dispute has imposed restrictions on San Francisco’s ability to address homeless encampments until there are sufficient shelter beds, creating a situation Newsom finds troubling. He believes that the judge’s rulings have crossed a line and are hindering the state’s efforts to resolve a pressing issue. 

“I hope this goes to the Supreme Court,” the governor said. “And that’s a hell of a statement coming from a progressive Democrat.” 

California grapples with a significant homeless population, accounting for approximately one-third of the nation’s homeless individuals. This challenge has persisted throughout Gavin Newsom’s tenure as governor. While Newsom highlighted that his administration has allocated billions of dollars toward addressing homelessness and providing housing, he also acknowledged the complexity of the issue. 

Newsom emphasized the gravity of the situation, stating, “People’s lives are at risk; it’s unacceptable what’s happening on the streets and sidewalks.” He further emphasized that all levels and branches of government share responsibility for the crisis. 

But San Francisco is facing challenges from the homeless themselves, who frequently refuse offers of housing and shelter. In 2023, outreach teams initiated contact and interacted with 2,344 unsheltered individuals living on the streets. Among these those individuals, only 1,065 opted to accept shelter services. But the remaining 1,278, or 54% of those contacted, declined the shelter offers extended to them. 

It was also noted that 153 individuals already had some form of shelter or housing but were still found residing in encampments. 

In Hayes Valley, the area affected by Tuesday’s huge blaze, street outreach teams engaged with 30 homeless individuals. Out of this group, 17 individuals chose to accept shelter, while 13 individuals declined the offer. 

City authorities have underscored that relocating homeless encampments is essential to maintaining the cleanliness, safety, and accessibility of public streets for all residents of San Francisco. 

During the interview, Newsom disclosed upcoming travel plans to China to discuss collaborative efforts to combat the “climate change crisis”. But if recent events are any indication, he would be better advised to stay closer to home to combat his own state’s homeless crisis.