San Francisco’s homeless are running out of room in the city, so they’re gradually moving out on to the bay, constructing makeshift boats and barges and forming floating tent cities, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The city has always had a small population of people living on self-constructed houseboats, WSJ says, but recently, the cost of housing, and San Francisco’s ensuing homelessness boom, has driven more of the city’s transient population to consider living on the city’s famous bay.
Between 100 and 200 “barges, sailboats, and other mostly decrepit vessels” now litter the landscape.
In many cities that border a body of water, houseboats are common. In fact, San Francisco, like Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, London, and Amsterdam, has a significant houseboat community, though most of the Bay Area’s floating residences are moored across the Bay Bridge in Sausalito.
These makeshift barges, however, aren’t technically houseboats. They don’t pay to moor at a dock or sit anchored in a marina, and they aren’t specially constructed for year-round living (most have no heat, electricity, or sanitary facilities). They do, however, exist in a gray area in San Francisco’s laws; technically, boats anchored off-shore in areas of the bay restricted for recreational boating are legal, they just aren’t supposed to stay anchored for more than a few hours.
For San Francisco, the dinghies and barges pose a special problem: San Francisco Bay is a major port, and shipping lanes criss-cross the bay. Boats that moor off the San Francisco coast run the risk of disturbing shipping routes or worse, getting caught in a battle for space with a much larger boat.
There’s also the concern of pollution. Most of the makeshift vessels aren’t equipped with toilets, showers, or laundry facilities, so human waste is being dumped directly into the water, just off-shore of (arguably) the nation’s most eco-friendly city. San Francisco already has a problem with poop on its sidewalks, and the city fears it may, someday soon, have issues with poop in its water.
San Francisco’s homeless problem, on land and now at sea, is out of control. At last count, they city’s homeless population hovers somewhere between 5,000 and 7,000 people, with around 3,000 of those being “chronically homeless” — that is, either uninterested or unable to find reliable, long-term housing. Up to 20,000 transients are thought to make San Francisco’s streets their home for at least part of the year.
The number of homeless in San Francisco hasn’t necessarily grown, but the city has become more tolerant of the transient population in recent years, as prices for housing have skyrocketed. Instead of aggressively policing the city’s sidewalk-dwellers, San Francisco has taken to trying to accommodate them, spending hundreds of millions on supportive housing, cleanup programs, and emergency services each year to help the homeless population on land.
The city seems ready to apply the same principles to the homeless now living on the bay. Administrators have proposed, instead of forcibly removing the unwanted seafarers, creating subsidized docks, marinas, and moorings for their makeshift vessels.