Oakland Official Floats Idea of Housing 1,000 Homeless Residents on Cruise Ship

An aerial view of the Port of Oakland, where City Council President Rebecca Kaplan suggested berthing a cruise ship to temporarily house up to 1,000 homeless residents. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Oakland's City Council president wants to explore the possibility of using a cruise ship to house up to 1,000 homeless people as a way of addressing the city's affordable housing and homelessness crisis.

Rebecca Kaplan told a council meeting Tuesday that the ship would be brought to the Port of Oakland, but port officials were quick to call the plan “untenable.”

“We respect President Kaplan's desire to address homelessness, but Port of Oakland docks are designed to work cargo ships. There isn't the infrastructure to berth a cruise ship,” port spokesman Mike Zampa said on Wednesday.

Oakland's port is one of the nation's busiest, and safety and security issues in the federally regulated facilities “would make residential uses untenable,” Zampa said.

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Kaplan didn't immediately return a request for further comment.

At Tuesday's meeting, Kaplan said she had been contacted by cruise ship companies about providing a vessel for emergency housing, and that the companies were reaching out to the port about what options might exist to berth a ship there, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. She didn't provide further details on those companies.

“Maybe we can have a way to create a 1,000 housing units overnight,” Kaplan said.

She added that she plans to present a proposal to the council in January that will be “no or low” cost to the city because residents of the cruise ship would pay for rooms based on their income, and the city would not actually buy the vessel.

Homelessness has spiked in Oakland, according to this year's point-in-time count, which found that the number of people living in unsheltered conditions jumped from roughly 1,900 to more than 3,200 in the last two years.

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“It could be a great way to house a lot of people quickly,” Kaplan told The Chronicle. “Cruise ships have been used for emergency housing after natural disasters and for extra housing for things like Olympics.”

Cruise ships offered temporary housing for about 8,000 people displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, according to FEMA. And earlier this year, President Trump suggested using them as shelters for victims of Hurricane Dorian.

Kaplan compared her vision for an Oakland cruise ship to something akin to the Queen Mary, a 1936 ocean liner based in Long Beach now being used as a floating hotel with 347 rooms.

“It could be like that,” Kaplan said. “But as affordable housing instead of hotel.”

Elaine de Coligny, executive director of the homeless advocacy group EveryOne Home in Alameda County, said she appreciated Kaplan's creativity and desire to find permanent housing for homeless people.

But de Coligny said it would be pricey to convert a cruise ship into long term living space. Before embarking on plans to do so, officials should talk to homeless people about whether they would even want to live on a cruise ship, she said.

“I think we’re all feeling desperate about the desperation that we’re seeing of people who are living outdoors,” de Coligny said. “I appreciate the creativity, but I have lots of questions.”