Oakland city councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan wants to employ a novel method of quickly creating emergency housing that has previously been used after natural disasters: cruise ships docked at the Port of Oakland.
It's unclear whether the cruise ship companies yet know that Kaplan is suggesting housing upwards of 1,000 homeless people on their ships — she mentioned at Tuesday's city council meeting that she had been "contacted by cruise companies," per the Chronicle, about "providing a ship for emergency housing." Kaplan says she plans to submit an actual proposal to the council in January, but the idea would be to have the Port contract with the companies to provide docking space for their ships, and then charge people based on what they can afford to live on the ship or ships temporarily. The project would come at no or low cost to the city, she says.
It sounds, though, like the companies may be more interested in parking their ships than they would be in providing transitional housing for the homeless — with all the Navigation Center-type complications that entails (substance abuse programs, mental health services, pet care).
Using docked cruise ships for housing is not a wholly new idea, though it has only been done previously for short stints of a few months. FEMA contracted with Carnival Cruise Lines in 2005 to provide housing on three ships for about 5,000 displaced New Orleans residents and federal workers after Hurricane Katrina. That six-month contract cost the government $236 million, or about $39 million per month, and it included three buffet-style meals per day.
Kaplan also drew a comparison to the Queen Mary in Long Beach — a vintage cruise ship that sits docked and serves as a hotel with rooms starting at $141 per night. "It could be like that," Kaplan said, per the Chronicle. "But as affordable housing instead of hotel."
The economic feasibility of the plan sounds like it may depend on how much homeless people are able to pay for housing.
Homelessness in Oakland has exploded in recent years, with the city seeing the biggest jump in its homeless population in the last two years of any city in California. Oakland now has more homeless per capita than any large city in the state, with 742 unsheltered homeless people for every 100,000 residents. Oakland's homeless population, as of the January census, is 4,071, up 47 percent from two years prior.
Advocates have turned to multiple new approaches to providing shelter, including providing tiny houses on unsanctioned sites, and creating RV and vehicle "triage" lots like one that is newly open in SF's Balboa Park neighborhood.
Stay tuned as the details of Kaplan's proposal come into view next month.