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Oakland is considering housing its homeless on cruise ships. But could it actually happen?


(Washington Post illustration; iStock)

Numerous solutions have been proposed to help end homelessness — expanding low-income housing, strengthening mental-health and veteran support, decriminalizing life on the streets — but Oakland City Council leaders are considering an unusual fix to ease its rapidly growing homeless population: cruise ships.

At a meeting this week, City Council President Rebecca Kaplan floated the idea of bringing a cruise ship to the Bay Area to house up to 1,000 homeless people, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

“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.”

The logistics of how the city would pull it off were not specified — the Port of Oakland called it “untenable” — and there was a glaring irony that Twitter users were quick to point out.

“What about a big cruise ship thats built on the land. Like a land houseboat. How about that,” one user wrote. Others were straightforward: “consider this: houses.”

The proposal is seen by some cruise industry experts as great in principle, but would be a logistical nightmare to execute.

Andrew Coggins, a professor at Pace University, says because people see cruise ships as a luxury, it would give off the appearance of housing the homeless in accommodations like a Marriott or Hilton hotel.

“I don’t think they would find public support for a cruise ship,” he says.

The easiest way for a temporary charter would be to pay the cruise line directly, and those costs can run into the “hundreds of thousands per day,” he says. There are the day-to-day maintenance costs to consider, and these large ships typically have engineering and deck crew that also need to be paid.

If the city were in the position to shell out a lot of money, it could purchase one outright and convert lounges and spaces into dorms, Coggins says. The issue there is, he said, that it would depend on the availability of ships, and the number of passengers would have to be specified.

Carnival has just over 100 ships, which account for roughly half of all cruise ships, Coggins says. Royal Caribbean has a quarter, and the rest are split among other companies who couldn’t afford to give up one of their ships permanently.

But Carnival is out for now: “We are not in a position to entertain this idea,” said Vance Gulliksen, news desk senior manager of Carnival.

The idea of housing people temporarily on cruise ships is not altogether unheard of — it was done after Hurricane Katrina — although it’s not simply a matter of moving people in, according to Mike Driscoll, the editor of Cruise Week. He’s skeptical this solution would work because the main problem, as he sees it, is that cruise ships are not built like hotels. The rooms are much smaller, a design feature that encourages travelers to spend as little time in them as possible.

He stressed the factors that include having to cancel people’s cruises on ships that are already in operation, the crew stationed on it would have to be veterans capable of handling the issues the homeless population faces, which can be unlike dealing with refugees from disasters. Also, since there are currently no cruise ships in the area, a significant amount of money would have to be spent initially just to bring one in.

“I can’t imagine a cruise line getting involved,” he says.

Read more:

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Parents of toddler who fell from cruise ship blame Royal Caribbean

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