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Oakland to consider housing homeless on cruise ship

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City council president says 1,000 people could find shelter offshore, but the port says idea is all wet

A large luxury white yacht floating in a blue sea. Via Shutterstock

At the Oakland City Council’s Tuesday meeting, Council President Rebecca Kaplan made a surprise announcement that the city will negotiate to convert a cruise ship into housing for the homeless, which she estimates may house up to 1,000 people.

The potential development came from a comment Kaplan made at a meeting earlier in the year in which she speculated about the potential of ships as emergency housing.

“I’ve been reached out to by someone, and we may have the possibility of actually getting a cruise ship,” Kaplan said Tuesday, adding, “Sometimes the words we speak can and do come true, and maybe we can get 1,000 housing units overnight.”

Kaplan offered no further specific details about the source of the vessel or the practical elements of employing it for homeless services, but will pursue the proposal in the year to come.

In a statement to the Associated Press, the Port of Oakland immediately tried to scuttle the idea, saying, “There isn’t the infrastructure to berth a cruise ship” in the city and that “our federally regulated maritime facilities” are not suitable for residential use, citing safety and security worries.

In 2018, a Portland, Maine nonprofit pursued grants to fund a report on a similar idea. In 2016, former Mayor of San Francisco Art Agnos suggested converting an aircraft carrier to serve as shelter for the homeless.

After the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake (during which Agnos was mayor), the USS Peleliu served as an emergency homeless shelter, housing hundreds of people displaced from damaged SROs.

When the Navy later decommissioned the ship, Agnos set his eye on it for his floating shelter plan. Former Twitter employee Greg Gopman (briefly infamous for a viral Facebook rant abusing the homeless) suggested Agnos consider a cruise ship instead.

Kaplan’s Tuesday comments came as the city council considered the Oakland’s five-year PATH (permanent access to housing) plan to relieve the homeless crisis.

The PATH report sets a series of escalating goals for the city, hoping to have “no families with children sleeping outdoors” and fewer than 3,000 homeless residents by 2021 Oakland’s most recent count topped 4,000.