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Ex-Mayor Agnos says put homeless on aircraft carrier

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To live in, not to ship them away

Former Mayor of San Francisco Art Agnos hasn’t held public office in years, but that’s no reason to quit working, as Agnos is always quick to toss out policy solutions for San Francisco’s various housing crises. His latest pitch: A homeless Navigation Center on an aircraft carrier.

This plan (shipped out via a Chronicle op-ed) is actually an old one for the former mayor. So old, in fact, that he did it already back in 1989, when the USS Peleliu served as an emergency homeless shelter after the Loma Prieta earthquake, an innovation Agnos usually references whenever the subject of the quake comes up.

Navy Rear Admiral John Bitoff, recalling the time 25 years later, said that the ship’s 300-plus temporary tenants, mostly displaced from a damaged SRO, were polite, well-behaved, and cheerful—although they did pile contraband several feet high before boarding.

Once the ship cleared out, homeless advocates of the time speculated that perhaps the trauma of the quake would soften neighborhood skepticism about accepting new shelters. And maybe it did for a time, but finding sites for new navigation centers remains a touchy affair today.
The Navy decommissioned the Peleliu (for some reason nicknamed "The Iron Nickel") after 35 years last March. Agnos proposes we anchor it off of San Francisco’s shores once more to again cater those who have been displaced (this time by economic rather than seismic disasters). The carrier housed up to 5,000 people at a time during its Naval career, a number not quite equivalent to San Francisco's estimated homeless population but competitive with it.

This wouldn’t solve a lot of chronic problems, like NIMBYism (some people certainly wouldn’t want the carrier moored anywhere near them) or some homeless residents' aversion to the shelter system in any form.

It would certainly offer a lot of space at no loss to local real estate, though, and the novelty of the idea isn't short on appeal.