A former San Francisco mayor wants to put the city's homeless on a Navy ship

san francisco homelessness 1980sVicki, who lives in a makeshift tent within sight of San Francisco's City Hall, packs up clothes to take to the Laundromat in morning on Wednesday, June 29, 1988 in San Francisco. Conflicts between the homeless camped out in Civic Center Plaza and San Francisco police have increased recently. Although city policy has been to allow homeless people to sleep in the park, both the police and Mayor Art Agnos say no structures, such as cardboard shacks and tents, can be permitted.David Weintraub/AP

A former San Francisco mayor is rocking the boat with a new proposed solution to the city's homeless crisis. Art Agnos, who led the city from 1988 to 1992, wants to create a temporary shelter aboard a retired Navy ship.

In an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle on Tuesday, Agnos suggested turning the USS Peleliu, a decommissioned assault ship that rests in a San Diego harbor, into a shelter capable of housing "most, if not all, of San Francisco's homeless living in tents on the streets."

There are some 6,500 homeless people living in San Francisco, which has the second highest homeless population in the US. Some surveys suggest that figure should be doubled.

"Our city desperately needs a humane, progressive game changer to house them until there is enough permanent housing," Agnos writes.

uss peleliuWikimedia Commons

The USS Peleliu has sleeping quarters, kitchens, medical clinics, offices, and recreation facilities, and once carried 5,000 military personnel on the open seas, according to Agnos. He proposes docking the ship at the Port of San Francisco, just steps from the city's tourist-packed Ferry Building, where the homeless populations can board at night.

His idea might not be as crazy as it sounds. After a 1989 earthquake leveled the Marina district and caused about $5 million in damages, people left homeless by the disaster sought shelter in the Moscone Convention Center. When the venue needed to reopen for business, a Navy admiral offered the USS Peleliu as a temporary dwelling.

"During the day, 300 homeless individuals kept their usual routines. At night, they came home to the ship," writes Agnos, who served as mayor at the time. "It was popular, because it was a safe, civilized shelter with good food."

san francisco homelessness 1980sA line of women forms outside St. Anthony's Foundation on August 14, 1987 in San Francisco's tenderloin district while waiting to be admitted into the women's shelter for showers, hot meals and mats to sleep on. St. Anthony's officials are working with the American Institute of Architects to find innovative solutions to the homeless problem.Daniel Murphy/AP

The ship departed two weeks later to continue with its mission.

It's unclear the costs or logistical challenges associated with Agnos' idea. In 1989, the US military ate the costs of housing and feeding the homeless aboard the USS Peleliu.

There will certainly be protests from city officials, who have long weighed the homeless populations' affect on tourism. Docking at the city's popular waterfront area is far from discreet, though it may be game-changing.

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