With the end of this month’s pandemic unemployment and eviction protection measures, the CEO of one of Silicon Valley’s largest homeless non-profit organizations called on business leaders to step up-to invest $250 million to open 10 emergency housing stations point.
The call to action highlights an issue that has become particularly urgent in the face of the COVID crisis: what responsibility do technology companies in the region have to solve the terrible problem of homelessness in their backyards?
Seattle-based Amazon recently became the latest technology giant to participate in this cause, donating $100,000 to support New Haven Inn, a homeless shelter for LGBTQ+ residents in downtown San Jose. Facebook announced this week that it has invested nearly US$40 million to build nearly 500 houses from Sunnyvale to East Bay, most of which will be reserved for residents at the lowest level of the socioeconomic ladder, or the homeless.
Aubrey Merriman, chief executive of LifeMoves, a homeless shelter provider, is trying to use more corporate wealth in the region by persuading other companies to join the fight.
“There is only so much Tesla and space travel you can have,” he said. “In fact, the legacy you have is an opportunity to say that we can solve one of the basic challenges we face in our lives.”
LifeMoves recently opened a 124-bed shelter in Mountain View, which is unprecedented. Merriman said that compared to traditional shelters where people sleep in dormitory-like rooms, the new site provides a private room of modular units for each person or family-these units are almost assembled like a “Legoland community” . The US$25 million project lasted six months and used US$14.35 million in state Homekey funds — grants to help cities and counties build homes for the homeless during the pandemic — as well as from Santa Clara County, Donations from Mountain View, Google and LinkedIn.
The goal is to provide people with shelter there for up to four months before moving them into permanent housing.
Merriman said that by building 10 more of these modular sites, LifeMoves can help nearly 20,000 people get rid of homelessness in the next five years.
“We are just waiting for the first company to grab the flag and wave it and say,’We are here and we want others to join us,'” Merriman said.
In the past few years, technology companies have shown increasing interest in the affordable housing crisis. Since launching its technology fund in 2017, Housing Trust Silicon Valley has raised US$117 million from local companies for affordable housing. Google announced in March that it would provide nearly $30 million in loans for three new development projects in the Bay Area.
However, support for shelters and other emergency solutions specifically for the homeless has been slow.
Amazon has previously pledged more than $2 billion in funding for housing in Washington, Virginia, and Tennessee, and recently put its toes into the Bay Area crisis by donating to the San Jose Refuge.
“Although only local, state, and federal governments have the ability to implement more effective housing policies, we believe that the private and public sectors can and should work together to meet this challenge,” Sally Kay, senior manager of external affairs at Amazon, Northern California, said in a letter Reads in the email statement. “We support innovative housing affordability programs in the communities where our employees live and work, and we believe our financial support will make a difference.”
According to Kay, the company chose New Haven Inn because it participated in Silicon Valley Pride in August and hopes to benefit the LGBTQ community through donations.
At the same time, Apple recently promised to spend millions of dollars to help dozens of people relocate and provide services to dozens of people living in the huge camp of the tech giant’s vacant property in San Jose.
Facebook promised to invest US$150 million in affordable housing projects in the Bay Area last year. On Wednesday, the company announced the first four projects that will launch its new fund: two in San Jose, one in Sunnyvale, and one in East Bay. Two other projects are expected by the end of 2021-this will allow Facebook to exceed its goal of supporting five buildings in the first year of the fund.
Ray Bramson, Chief Operating Officer of Destination: Home, who is working with Facebook, said that Facebook invested funds to pay for the first step in the development process-buying land and planning construction-which is usually the most challenging step. project. He said that government funds are usually not dedicated to that stage of the process, and traditional lenders may find the early steps too risky. Bramson said this is why technology companies with strong capital and strong risk tolerance are in an ideal position to provide initial funding.
“These companies are part of our community,” he said. “Homelessness and lack of affordable housing is a community problem, and it does require community solutions.”