The Shipping News

Some New York City officials went to the Bahamas last fall to assess retired cruise ships as possible emergency housing for the homeless. (No, housing-free families would not get airfare to Miami—the ship would be brought to Manhattan and docked there.) Talk about your hand-me-downs. When I first heard this, I mentally cued The Love Boat theme and pictured a chirpy cruise director cajoling tired homeless parents through swing-dance lessons while a disco ball flashed above a festive all-you-can-eat buffet of soup and day-old bread.

But then I read the details: The ship's disco facilities and bars would be removed. (No shaking your groove thing on the city's dime, folks.) It could be worse: Recently a Baptist minister in San Francisco suggested that a mothballed Navy ship could be refurbished to serve as shelter for that city's thousands of homeless people. Anchors aweigh!

New York City's economy nose-dived after 9-11, exacerbating an already serious housing crisis. In December 2002, a record-breaking 38,000 people were sleeping in New York City shelters and emergency housing. Almost 80 percent of those were children and their families. For more than 20 years there has been a legal right to emergency shelter in New York. Last summer to meet this obligation the city placed homeless people in a former jail in the Bronx (until complaints by housing advocates and a court order made them stop). So the city is looking for options, and, as officials point out, most of the quarters on cruise ships were designed for families, though the spaces are not much larger than jail cells.

To be fair, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, even in the midst of severe fiscal crisis, has put forward a plan to build and preserve 65,500 affordable homes in the city over the next five years. This is the sort of long-term solution that advocates for the homeless clamor for.

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 2003
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