Greg Gopman, a San Francisco entrepreneur who once worked at Twitter, wants to house San Francisco’s homeless residents on a retired cruise ship, putting a Silicon Valley spin on a proposal from one of San Francisco’s former mayors and folding the likes of Airbnb into the mix.
Gopman first explained his idea in March to the the U.K.’s Guardian, admitting that “it’s a radical idea” but insisting his plan is “not trivial by any means.”
The proposal involves buying up a $13 million vessel that, according to Gopman, was formerly outfitted to house refugees and converting it to serve the city’s homeless.
If this idea sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because former San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos floated a similar one last year, suggesting that a decommissioned aircraft carrier serve as a new Navigation Center, as the same vessel briefly did after the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989.
“A floating homeless shelter could be a gamechanger,” Agnos argued in an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle, proposing it as new housing at no loss to local real estate. Agnos says the USS Peleliu “worked beautifully as a temporary emergency homeless shelter” 28 years ago, so why not give it a shot long term?
Gopman liked the plan but took it in a different direction, with a smaller ship (able to serve roughly 500 people) and a Silicon Valley twist. Part of his idea calls for “listing select cabins on the ship on Airbnb,” to help keep the ship funded, notes the San Francisco Business Times.
Back in 2013, Gopman made headlines for disparaging remarks about our homeless population. His Facebook post went viral and earned jeers from much of the internet. In part, he wrote:
In other cities, the lower part of society keep to themselves. They sell small trinkets, beg coyly, stay quiet, and generally stay out of your way. They realize it’s a privilege to be in the civilized part of town and view themselves as guests.
In downtown SF the degenerates gather like hyenas [and] act like they own the center of the city, [...] It’s a disgrace.
In the years since that infamous comment, Gopman has changed his tone with regard to the city’s homeless. He also founded a housing nonprofit called A Better San Francisco.
In a May blog about housing, Gopman wrote:
Personal feelings aside, we all have to recognize that in the current system there are people dying every day on the streets and it’s time we stopped trying to manage homelessness and instead focussed [sic] on practical ways to ending it for every single person who falls on hard times.
In the aforementioned piece, he proposes that San Francisco should invest in helping cities with cheaper real estate build new housing and then paying for homeless people here to make the move, rather than relying on more expensive local development.
Gopman has since called his 2013 comment “the stupidest thing I ever did,” and acknowledges in interviews that it probably hurts his chances of having his housing proposals heard.
Nevertheless, he says he’s collaborating with Agnos on a formal pitch about the ship plan to Mayor Ed Lee’s administration and will keep following through on new ideas in spite of the skepticism his name may engender.