In a longshot effort to help the homeless, Dan Yates, president of Portland Spirit Cruises, recently offered an unorthodox idea to City Hall: Buy a 370-foot ship and convert it into a floating homeless shelter.
“I know you are trying many different approaches to reduce the impact of houselessness in Portland,” Yates wrote to Mayor Ted Wheeler in a Feb. 8 letter. “I think a novel solution may involve something like this vessel.”
Yates’ letter included a clipping of an advertisement for the ship, which is outfitted to sleep 300 people. Its price: $5 million.
“Perfect for oil rig support, fishing/gaming lodge, private island, floating hotel, 14,000 sq ft unused space ready for casino or more accommodation rooms,” the ad states.
Another blurb refers to the ship – replete with a pool, movie theater, full bar and restaurant, aquarium and helipad – as a five-story “floating palace.” As of Tuesday, it’s still listed for sale.
In his letter, Yates said the ship could be bought and retrofitted for about $15 million to allow temporary shelter for as many as 1,000 people.
“This vessel could have its extensive spaces converted to bunk rooms,” Yates said. “Staterooms could be converted to allow family units to stay together and even have areas for pets and personal storage.”
That Yates proffered the offbeat idea suggests local entrepreneurs want swift, gutsy action to aid people living on Portland streets.
But, as happened with other entrepreneurs’ ideas, like those to use the former Wapato Jail for use as a homeless shelter and another to serve homeless people from government-owned property under the Broadway Bridge, the plans may not pan out financially, logistically or politically.
It also demonstrates an increasing willingness by Portland’s business class to put skin in the game if it means progress. Yates, for example, offered to travel cross-country to inspect the boat. And last year, Columbia Sportswear founder Tim Boyle donated $1.5 million to help create that homeless “navigation center” underneath the Broadway Bridge.
At the time Boyle announced those plans, Wheeler issued a statement saying: “I want to send the message that if you have ideas, or resources or expertise – and you want to put them to work addressing homelessness – government can be an effective partner.”
In an interview Tuesday, Yates said he never heard back from the mayor’s office about his letter.
Eileen Park, Wheeler’s spokeswoman, said the mayor’s office receives many letters and emails from people writing about homelessness and not everyone gets a response. An aide pointed to partnerships between the city and entrepreneurs to create shelters and conduct research, such as examining whether shipping containers can be converted into housing.
The mayor appreciates Yates’ concern for the homeless, Park said, but the floating shelter idea is too expensive and risky (a shelter sleeping 1,000 people is perceived as unmanageable, among other issues).
Yates said Tuesday that he was only trying to “help the process along” with his big idea.
“I just want to take every opportunity we can to provide people the ability to get out of bad weather and give them a place they can maybe start to put their life back on track,” he said.
— Gordon R. Friedman