More Information About Homelessness

How do we do this? 

We start by assigning a full-time Support Services Officer, as our Homeless Liaison. While all San Bruno Police Officers play an active role in addressing homelessness, having a single point of contact for more complex outreach cases has proven to be an effective model. This vertical handling model enhances the familiarity and rapport between staff and our unhoused population, ensures the specialized expertise required in this niche, and creates greater accountability to ethical results.

Additionally, the San Bruno Police Department has a paid partnership with LifeMoves, a local non-profit organization that specializes in connecting unhoused persons to shelter, health care, rehabilitation, mental health, and a variety of other services offered within San Mateo County. The experts at LifeMoves go well beyond simply telling people about available resources, working hand-in-hand with each and every homeless person in our city to maximize follow through. Our Support Services Officer works directly with the Homeless Outreach Team from LifeMoves, to provide essential services and support to one of our most vulnerable populations. Together, they conduct homeless outreach efforts on a regular basis to ensure that everyone experiencing homelessness in San Bruno is offered any and all services that they may need. For further information regarding LifeMoves and the services they provide, check out their webpage in the links at the end of this section:

In 2022 alone, our joint work with LifeMoves resulted in more than 40 unhoused people moving into temporary transitional housing, and at least 10 of those people ended up in permanent housing. 

So why do you still see tents and encampments in San Bruno?

Not only is the housing first approach consistent with the values of our department, but it is also essential to ensure legal compliance in our abatement efforts. The legal requirements of addressing homelessness are expansive and complex. At a high level, it is important to understand that people and their belongings cannot simply be removed from public property, and this includes the unhoused. Essentially, before the Police Department can enforce an “eviction” of a homeless person and/or their belongings from public property, it must thoroughly document its efforts to provide that person with ample access to available services, as well as that person’s refusal to take advantage of those services.

To ensure legal compliance, when an encampment is reported to SBPD, below are the steps that generally must be followed. As you will read, the requirements of this process make it all but impossible to gauge how long it takes to remove an encampment:

  • The Support Services Officer and the LifeMoves Homeless Outreach Team travel out to the site, communicate directly with the people staying there, and offer shelter options and assistance in accessing those options. The most immediate service offered involves taking the person(s) to a local shelter and temporarily securing the items that they cannot take with them. As surprising as it might be to hear, many unhoused people do not want to go to a shelter for a variety of reasons, and they cannot be forced to do so.
  • Whether they are willing to go to a shelter or not, the Support Services Officer and LifeMoves will begin discussing longer-term housing assistance options available to them. If individuals are cooperative and wish to accept county housing assistance, LifeMoves will work with them directly to begin the process of transitioning into housing. It is important to understand that even if they refuse to go into a shelter, the encampment cannot be removed while they are actively participating in the process to obtain permanent housing.
  • As surprising as this might be, many unhoused people do not want to move off the streets for a variety of reasons. Legal requirements make it clear that removal of an encampment is a final resort after all supportive services options have been exhausted and refused. What often happens is that a person claims to be interested in obtaining permanent housing but fails to complete various steps in that process despite the constant assistance of LifeMoves and SBPD. When it becomes apparent that a person is not following through despite our efforts, we can move forward with the removal process. However, some of these individuals are familiar with this process and will indicate a willingness to work with us each time we approach a removal deadline. This presents a real legal challenge as the burden to demonstrate that other options have been exhausted prior to removal lies squarely with the evicting entity.
  • If we reach the point where removal is legal and appropriate, individuals within an encampment are served with a Notice of Trespass, which provides them with the legally required 72 hours to vacate. If they have not vacated on their own within that timeline, and they have not indicated that they are now willing to pursue housing services, the encampment can be physically removed.
  • Removal of an encampment is a heavy lift involving multiple entities. The Police Department provides the legal process and safety/security. Parks, Public Works, and Recology facilitate site clean-up. LifeMoves and the Support Services Officer provide support for the unhoused people involved and secure their belongings as needed.
    • It is important to understand that while many of the items in an encampment might seem like garbage, to the unhoused they might be important personal belongings. If we remove an encampment and there are personal items that the unhoused cannot take with them, but which they are not willing to throw away, we are often burdened with storing those items for a period of time. All personal property removed from an encampment is documented, collected and safely stored for the individual(s) to collect at a later time. A strictly organized procedure is in place, and a property receipt is provided to the induvial(s) to ensure that they will have a proper understanding of how to collect their stored belongings. This process presents health and safety concerns for staff, as well as storage burdens on the City.
  • The goal for encampment removal is the relocation of the individuals into transitional or permanent housing, as well as restoration of the area to mitigate the risk to public health and safety.
  • The 9th Circuit Court Decision of Martin v Boise, is a governing case for many of the processes listed above.

Additional Links and Resources

LifeMoves Website

San Mateo County Shelter Options: 

Safe Harbor South San Francisco; 295 N Access Rd, South San Francisco

Samaritan House San Mateo; 4031 Pacific Blvd, San Mateo

Samaritan House South; 1836B Bay Rd, East Palo Alto

Maple Street Shelter; 1580 Maple Street, Redwood City