Moving the California homeless (slightly) offshore

California official floats a new idea: House homeless on a cruise ship” (USA Today) ties into some of my favorite themes:

If cruise ships could be used as emergency housing in natural disasters, maybe they could be used to help in Oakland’s emergency: homelessness.

The housing crisis in the city that sits across the bay from San Francisco has resulted in a surge of tent encampments across city sidewalks, under freeway overhangs and in public parks. By the latest count, more than 4,000 people are experiencing homelessness in the city of just over 400,000, up 47% in just two years.

After Kaplan floated the cruise ship idea, it didn’t take long for word to spread. She says she’s already been contacted by cruise ship companies and is planning to present a fully fledged proposal that could add up to 1,000 on-board beds to the council early next year.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush came under fire after Hurricane Katrina for fast-tracking a $236 million contract to Carnival Cruise Lines – a big GOP donor – only to house a handful of victims. After evacuees opted for on-land options over the cruise ship cabins, rooms sat empty for weeks.

Former California Rep. Henry Waxman called the incident a “boondoggle” in a letter to Bush sent in 2006, highlighting that for the $240,000 it cost taxpayers to shelter each family the federal government could have built them permanent homes.

I’m waiting for the California social justice advocate who says “As long as they’re on a ship, maybe we could pay some other country to take them in…”


10 thoughts on “Moving the California homeless (slightly) offshore

  1. Buckminster Fuller had Old Man River’s City. It would have been a Fulleresque 70,000 person housing project in East St. Louis (which as we know is still falling apart). I wonder why his plans haven’t received a lot more attention recently; I think Fuller had better ideas per mile than anyone else in the world, and that was 50 years ago. Each family living on OMRC would have had a 2,500 square foot apartment. It was about a mile across, moated and domed.

    Famous last words:
    “As the first favorable publicity occurred, it was inevitable that Illinois’s political representatives would quickly offer the East St. Louisans their aid in securing government funds, which funds, however, would involve so many restrictions and compromises as to utterly emasculate the OMR City’s design rationale…I have never engaged in a development that I have felt to have such promise for all humanity, while being, at the same time, so certain of realization, because its time is imminently at hand.”

  2. I also want to say: Fuller’s idea was a good idea. It was a real starting point, it was an actual engineering attempt to solve a large scale problem in a large scale way with intelligent design and provide a livable, sustainable home to large numbers of people while taking up the minimum of space and using resources optimally.

    This plan to put the homeless on cruise ships is – and I’m not even going to take the time to elaborate the 100 reasons why – an absolutely idiotic idea that serves to show how craven some politicians are to “do something.” Absolutely no brains behind it at all. OK just one criticism: The point of housing the homeless in an emergency fashion is to do several things:

    1) Get them off the street
    2) Get them into a place where real triage can be done to assess their situation
    3) Work to get them out of the temporary shelter and back into a life, if they can handle it.

    Putting them on a *cruise ship* might be good as PR for the cruise line and the City Council, and it builds nothing that will work on an ongoing basis. Makes me ashamed to even read about it.

  3. I was going to say this sounds like a terrible idea for a number of reasons, but then I remembered that the Seattle Homelessness Agency just hired a transsexual stripper to give a performance to a bunch of dowdy city administrators as part of their “homelessness awareness” program (seriously- the video has to be seen to be believed). So pretty much anything any other agency is doing seems incredible by comparison.

  4. In general it sounds like a terrible idea in terms of health, safety and maintenance.

    I think a better idea might be “temporary” deputization of empty retail and empty housing and keeping shelters relatively small and dispersed across a city, perhaps tended by churches and other charity and volunteer organizations, providing safe housing and meals, not tolerating crime, treating mental illness and addiction, and perhaps even paying responsible tenants to oversee the locations.

    I’d prefer to see the above then a tax on empty buildings as has also been proposed. (No, we’re not going to tax your empty building, but the longer it remains unoccupied, the more likely it becomes we will kelo it for a two year stint as homeless shelter.)

    • Alexey: Awesome find! Thank you. (Except that, unlike the Bay Area homeless, the “philosophers” weren’t surrounded by rich people who say that their #1 priority, as a simple matter of “justice” is helping them.)

  5. Labeling vagrants as “homeless” leads ineluctably to the solution — that the government has to provide housing, on a ship or wherever, and that that will solve the problem — since the vagrants have no money who else will provide something for nothing? This will also create lots of government jobs and allocate power to those who control those jobs and the funding for the ship and so on. But if the problem is not the lack of a home but rather mental illness, drug addiction, or alcoholism (which leads to behavior that ends up with people on the street) then it is unlikely that providing free housing on a ship or anywhere else will accomplish much — since what makes you think that the “homeless” would actually board the ship? Problems such as mental illness can be dealt with in a controlled setting where medication is administered — but the law has developed so it is difficult to involuntarily commit someone because his freedom — to wander the streets in a schizophrenic rage, live in a tent under a freeway while ingesting opiods, etc. — is paramount.

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