What about outside-the-box solutions?

Desperate shortages of affordable housing have led some cities to consider desperate measures. 

Take for example, a recent proposal out of Oakland, where homelessness grew 47% from 2017 to 2019. City Council President Rebecca Kaplan floated a plan to house up to 1,000 homeless residents on a cruise ship in the city’s port. Though not a novel idea — cruise ships offered emergency shelter during Hurricane Katrina — the Port of Oakland instantly dismissed the proposal as “untenable,” while Twitter users pointed out the irony of housing people in boats rather than actual homes. 

Oakland is also home to another controversial solution: move the homeless out of street encampments and into metal structures more often used as tool sheds. The city currently operates four “cabin communities,” which include electricity, security guards and supportive services. About two-thirds of residents who have been through the program have found more permanent shelter — a statistic the city calls a success. Supporters of the sheds — including Riverside Mayor Rusty Bailey, who has been sleeping in one himself to garner local support for the strategy — say that they are warmer, safer, and more humane than sleeping in tents on cement. Detractors argue that the cramped structures are a poor substitute for permanent supportive housing or building affordable apartments.

Oakland is currently operating four “shelter communities” of Tuff sheds. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)

Cities around the country have jumped on the tiny house craze, building villages of the pint-sized dwellings for the homeless. Los Angeles has piloted a program to pay homeowners to host homeless people in backyard “granny flats.” Other cities have turned to 3D-printed homes that can be turned out in 48 hours to lower the cost of building extremely-affordable units.