by Carol Denney
Former San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos’s idea of putting hundreds of people on a ship offshore is overdue. Just make sure the people on board are the failed leadership robbing poor people of tents and blankets while the city builds luxury hotels and condos.
His “shelter ship” idea on the San Francisco Chronicle’s editorial page featured a photograph of the USS Peleliu, a ship offered by Admiral Bitoff as temporary housing during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. According to Agnos, 300 homeless people aboard “kept their usual routines” by day for two weeks, after which the ship resumed its military mission. Two weeks.
Agnos breezes by the issue of how long one might need to (or have to) stay on a ship, citing instances in which ships were considered or used for housing, including in Auckland, New Zealand; Dortmund, Germany; Galveston, Texas; Mobile, Alabama; and New York.
Agnos should have kept reading. In New Zealand, businessmen suggested the use of cruise ships as emergency housing, but their ideas were dismissed as unworkable by Campbell Roberts of the Salvation Army, who said that in Auckland, a ship “would not be suitable accommodation for a high-needs population.”
Roberts gave the businessmen points for “creative thinking,” but noted: “A cruise ship is fine for a month but to live on it for any longer would be a strange experience for the inhabitants and it would have no sense of normality about it. I am fully supportive of a creative solution to this problem but I don’t think a cruise ship is the answer.”
The only actual uses of ships as shelter were in emergency situations: temporary shelter for people whose houses were underwater, or for refugees escaping war.
In none of these situations were ships used to address what San Francisco and many other cities face: a situation created by a business and political class who consider the places poor people live as opportunity sites for high-end development.
Auckland’s housing market is one of the most expensive, with property values increasing 77.5 percent in the past five years. The average house is more than 498,000 British pounds, or 662,489 American dollars.
This may be technically an emergency in places where the cities have passed resolutions recognizing a housing emergency. But that doesn’t mean this housing shortage wasn’t carefully planned, permit by permit, for the benefit of the developers and the politicians whose campaigns they fund every election. This particular emergency was as carefully arranged as an expensive wedding.
Using emergency measures to address long-standing, planned housing inequities leaves firmly in place the discriminatory policies which brought us to this outrage, where the “shelter ship” editorial is published the day before a Chronicle front page article touts another luxury hotel and condo project on Market Street, the exact spot where police and Public Health workers take poor people’s belongings if they have nowhere to go.
I challenge Agnos to relocate offshore himself, an endeavor which thousands of sailors will assure him is extremely challenging.
But Agnos’s real challenge will be using his considerable political connections to address the priorities of a lucrative status quo undisturbed by his “shelter ship” proposal.