Business

Billionaires give $30 million to solving homeless problem

Initiative to look at root causes, ways to end it

Bay Area News Group/MCT

“The world needs a North Star for truth on homelessness,” says Salesforce.com Chairman and CEO Marc Benioff. Above, he speaks with then-Yahoo CEO and President Marissa Mayer at the Salesforce.com annual trade show in San Francisco in 2013.
Bay Area News Group/MCT “The world needs a North Star for truth on homelessness,” says Salesforce.com Chairman and CEO Marc Benioff. Above, he speaks with then-Yahoo CEO and President Marissa Mayer at the Salesforce.com annual trade show in San Francisco in 2013.

Marc Benioff, billionaire founder of Salesforce, and his wife, Lynne, have donated $30 million to launch research into the root cause of homelessness and find ways to end it.

The five-year initiative with the University of California at San Francisco aims to find new approaches to housing and services for people experiencing homelessness, and to create a centralized library of existing research on the subject.

“The world needs a North Star for truth on homelessness,” Benioff said in a statement.

“The UCSF Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative will be that North Star, providing the latest research, data and evidence-based solutions to ensure we’re investing in programs that will help solve the homelessness crisis.”

The San Francisco Bay Area ranks among the worst places in the country for homelessness, with the problem so widespread and conditions so abysmal that an October United Nations report deemed the crisis a “human rights violation.”

A recent report from the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, a think tank, said that more than 28,000 are experiencing homelessness in the Bay Area.

Fixing the issue would cost $12.7 billion, the report estimated.

Homelessness in San Francisco is exacerbated by income inequality and notoriously high housing costs.

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A June report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development found that a family of four living off $117,400 a year in San Francisco would qualify as low income.

So would a single adult with an annual salary of $82,000.

Tech companies are often accused of perpetuating the problem by flooding areas with highly paid workers, which in turn raises the local cost of living.

But Benioff, whose cloud software company Salesforce is the largest employer in San Francisco, has become a prominent voice on the issue.

Last year, he promoted Proposition C, local ballot measure that would tax large companies based in San Francisco and use those funds to help combat homeless.

Benioff went to war with other billionaires, including Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, over the measure, which was passed by voters but is awaiting court validation.

One of the goals of Benioff’s research initiative is to help guide San Francisco in how to use the $300 million generated by Proposition C, if it is approved, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Margot Kushel, a professor of medicine at UCSF and director of its Center for Vulnerable Populations, will oversee the research starting in July.

“We know a lot about how to end homelessness, but that knowledge doesn’t always reach policymakers and is often not properly targeted,” she said in a news release.

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“We have far more to learn about designing the most effective ways to prevent and end homelessness.”

The Benioffs’ gift is the largest-ever private donation for homelessness research, according to a news release from the university.

In total, the couple has pledged $66 million to tackling homelessness in San Francisco, including more than $6 million to renovate the Bristol Hotel to create new units of housing for formerly homeless people and $11.5 million to the Hamiliton Families’ Heading Home Campaign.

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