Public Interaction with the Homeless

San Francisco Police Department                             

Quality of Life / Homelessness



Homelessness is a complex social problem, one not easily addressed by a law enforcement approach. Citizens of San Francisco should know that members of the San Francisco Police Department treat all persons equally, regardless of their economic or living conditions.  People experiencing homelessness have the same legal and individual rights afforded to others.  

Homelessness impacts the quality of life of those visiting or living in San Francisco.  Operation Outreach, created in 2004 by Chief Greg Suhr, dedicated officers to a special unit, based in district police stations, as part of the city’s overall, coordinated response to homelessness. This unit is tasked with handling quality of life related incidents and impacts of homelessness at the neighborhood level.  The mission of Operation Outreach is to locate the homeless where ever they might be and to determine their needs. Outreach Officers work with city agencies, such as the Department of Public Health, The Community Justice Court, the Serial Inebriate Program, the Human Services Agency, and the Department of Public Works to provide targeted services for those in need while addressing quality of life concerns in the communities we serve.  Operation Outreach Officers are available to assist the community with homeless and quality of life issues and can be contacted by calling the SFPD non-emergency phone number at 553-0123. 

As a specially focused unit, the Outreach Officers work with the Department of Public Health’s, Engagement Specialist Team, who provide targeted street outreach with the goal of engaging San Francisco’s most vulnerable street population. The San Francisco Police Department and Operation Outreach works closely with the Mayor’s Office of Housing Opportunity Partnership and Engagement, to address neighborhood issues related to homelessness.

The Department of Public Health’s Engagement Specialist Team is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and can be reached at 415-734-4233.  For cleanup of human feces or debris, and belongings left on the sidewalk or street, call 311 for the Department of Public Works.

While homelessness per se is not a crime, certain types of public conduct are illegal and should be reported to the San Francisco Police Department. These crimes include but are not limited to; loitering in the vicinity of ATM’s, fighting in public, trespassing, aggressive pan handling, urinating and defecating in public, consuming alcoholic beverages in public, camping and or sleeping on a public street or park, and sitting or lying on a public sidewalk between the hours of 7 A.M and 11 P.M.

Citizen’s Arrest

Many of the crimes involving homeless people are classified as misdemeanors.  A police officer can only arrest a person who commits a misdemeanor if the offense is committed in his or her presence.  A person who witnesses a crime may make a citizen’s arrest by doing the following:

  • Call the SFPD and provide details of the offense, including a description of the subjects involved and if they are still on scene.  Call 911 if it is of an emergency nature, if the crime is in progress or about to happen, and involves serious personal injury, property damage.  We encourage you to call or email the Commanding Officer of the Station in whose district you reside for quality of life complaints of an ongoing nature that are not being addressed.
  • Your safety is of paramount importance at all times. Taking or attempting to take physical control of any subject is not advised.  Keep our dispatchers advised at all times as to what is occurring and where the subject is currently. You may be asked to provide a description of the person, including the clothing they are wearing.


  • San Francisco Municipal Police Code Section 25 states that no person shall willfully remain upon any private property or business premise after being notified to leave by the owner, lessee, or other person in charge.  Notice may be oral or in the form of a written notice posted in a conspicuous place.  The first violation is an infraction; a second within 24 hours is a misdemeanor.  Property or business owner should contact their district station for postings of 25 MPC Placards (every six months, color-coded) so that officers on patrol can take immediate enforcement action when someone violates this provision and current signs are posted.
  • Avoid all confrontations and maintain a safe distance, call the SFPD for quality of life violations.
  • Do not permit anyone to camp or loiter on your property or leave personal belongings behind.
  • Consult with San Francisco SAFE(553-1984 or 673-SAFE) about other measures you can take to improve safety and security in your neighborhood and to address neighborhood concerns.