A solution to homelessness that could float | In Our Opinion

  • Wednesday, January 4, 2017 10:05am
  • Opinion

There’s a neighborhood in Kitsap County that can accommodate a population of 5,000, has such amenities as a store, barbershop, recreation facilities, laundry, library, medical offices, post office, and kitchens and dining areas. You can’t beat the water views. And it’s already built.

It’s called the USS Kitty Hawk, a mothballed aircraft carrier docked at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, awaiting a date with the scrapyard.

We’d like to float this idea: That the Battle Cat not be scrapped but instead used for housing for people who are homeless. Need a job or job training? You could get it working in one of the onboard services. Rent? That’s paid by helping with upkeep. Need additional education? There’s adequate space for classes. There’s also adequate office space for services that help people get back on their feet and find permanent housing and employment.

Before you sink the idea, consider this: It’s not a new idea. In 1980, the USS Peleliu (LHA 5) hosted 300 people who lost their homes in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. “During the day, 300 homeless individuals kept their usual routines. At night, they came home to the ship,” former San Francisco mayor Art Agnos wrote in a September column for SFGate. “It was popular because it was a safe, civilized shelter with good food … The Peleliu worked beautifully as a temporary emergency earthquake homeless shelter, but we would need to test the idea on a long-term basis.”

In addition, Agnos wrote, Dortmund, Germany deployed two cruise ships on the Emscher River to temporarily house its overflow of refugees. And in 2005, the Federal Emergency Management Agency chartered three large cruise ships with a combined capacity of more than 4,400 beds to house Hurricane Katrina victims in Galveston, Texas, and Mobile, Alabama. Agnos wrote, “FEMA reported that ‘the use of cruise ships was an innovative and successful program.’”

Agnos is proposing that the Peleliu, now decommissioned, be used on a long-term basis for housing for people who are homeless, with a navigation center to help people find permanent housing and employment.

The alternative?

“Hundreds in San Francisco’s homeless population are living in horrendous conditions in tents on streets because we simply do not have enough shelter beds for them,” Agnos wrote. “Proposals to cite homeless individuals with ‘two-day vacate notices attached to promise of housing’ are disingenuous because there is no housing. Our city desperately needs a humane, progressive game changer to house them until there is enough permanent housing.”

Agnos believes the Peleliu could be that game changer in San Francisco. We believe the Kitty Hawk could be the game changer in Kitsap County. Those involved in trying to end homelessness in Kitsap County should explore this idea.

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