Speaking with SFist in June on the topic of the enduring homelessness crisis in San Francisco, Art Agnos, who served as mayor from 1988 to 1992, classified "the development... of supportive and permanent housing" as "a major challenge... because the population it is designed for — alcoholics, drug abusers, the mentally ill, among others — [these constitute] the most unpopular group of needy Americans in our nation's modern history." Today, in the pages of the Chronicle, Agnos proposes one unexpected location, not for permanent housing but for temporary shelter, and it's a suggestion that's sure to get people talking: House homeless San Francisco residents aboard a naval vessel, where the "unpopular group" is perhaps less likely to be met with objection.

"My idea for a game changer is to immediately create a temporary Navigation Center operated by a nonprofit agency aboard a reconditioned Navy ship large enough to handle a large number of people," Agnos writes, referencing Mayor Lee's system of shelters that seek to house entire encampments of homeless people with relatively loose restrictions on them. Lee has promised Navigation Centers will house 8,000 homeless people during the rest of his term. In his editorial, Agnos also appears to criticize the current city tactic of sweeps that uproot encampments of homeless people, since "only when we can provide that housing on demand can we honestly say, “No more living in street tents or sleeping in doorways, parks or under freeways.”

Agnos didn't just dream this up, the former politician emphasizes: He presided over a similar system, albeit for just two weeks, during his tenure as mayor. "This is exactly what we did in San Francisco to temporarily house homeless folks after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake," Agnos recalls. In fact, for two weeks after that disaster, about 300 people from the SoMa area, homeless residents living in damaged SRO hotels, came aboard the USS Peleliu, a small aircraft carrier with a capacity of almost 5,000. The Los Angeles Times wrote in October 1989 that "The 39,300-ton Peleliu literally provided a safe harbor for hundreds of derelicts and other downtown denizens uprooted by the quake by turning its helicopter hangar into a huge dormitory." There were challenges, sources conceded to the paper. For example, "Because many of the homeless have substance abuse problems, the Red Cross said, two fully equipped detoxification vans are parked at the bottom of the Peleliu's gangway. Ship doctors are available twice a day to the homeless for sick call." The Navy also provided food for the temporary crew of the Peleliu at an untold expense.

Agnos isn't specifically proposing the city again use the Pelelieu, although it has been decommissioned and Agnos seems to think it could be brought into play. Instead, he's mostly using the ship as an example. In the push, Agnos sees allies in Nancy Pelosi and Dianne Feinstein, who are "on excellent terms with President Obama and Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus."

Finally, it sounds like Agnos has been catching up on his Game of Thrones recently, quipping that "Winter is coming." He'd like to see this suggestion in action soon, perhaps timed to fleet week, he writes. What do we think?

Related: Former Mayors Dianne Feinstein And Art Agnos Discuss Root Causes Of Homelessness, Other Mayors' Failures