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Oakland to consider housing 1,000 homeless people on a cruise ship

Could homeless be housed on cruise ship?

An Oakland city official wants to explore the possibility of using a cruise ship to house up to 1,000 homeless people in the Bay Area, which is suffering from a shortage of affordable housing and a rise in homelessness.

Oakland City Council President Rebecca Kaplan told a council meeting Tuesday that the ship would be brought to the Port of Oakland. She said she has been contacted by cruise ship companies about providing a ship for emergency housing, and that the companies were reaching out to the Port of Oakland about what options exist to park a ship at the port, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. She didn't provide further details on those companies.

"Maybe we can have a way to create a thousand housing units overnight," Kaplan said, according to the report.

She compared the idea to the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California, a 1930s-era cruise ship that is now run as a floating hotel. Its 347 rooms rent for between $141 to $146 per night, the Chronicle said.

"It could be like that, but as affordable housing instead of hotel," Kaplan said.

It would not be the first time cruise ships were used to provide shelter for people without homes. After Hurricane Katrina decimated New Orleans, two luxury liners housed displaced city workers and their families. 

"Untenable"

But port officials said Wednesday the move would be "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.

The port is among the 10 busiest in the nation and safety and security issues in the federally regulated facilities "would make residential uses untenable," Zampa said.

Kaplan didn't immediately return a request for further comment from The Associated Press.

Rise in homelessness

Kaplan said 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. The city would not buy the cruise ship.

Homelessness has spiked in Oakland in the past two years with the number of unsheltered people increasing from 1,900 to more than 3,000.

"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."

Too pricey?

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."

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