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A tech billionaire donated $30 million to try to solve San Francisco’s homelessness problem

Salesforce founder Marc Benioff and his wife help seed a research initiative with UCSF

Marc and Lynne Benioff's $30 million gift for homelessness research is the largest ever for this field of study. All told, the Salesforce founder and his wife have pledged $66 million to prevent and end homelessness in San Francisco. (Justin Lane/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

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, a San Francisco native, 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 local think tank, said 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. A June report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development found 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, a 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. “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 Hamilton Families’ Heading Home Campaign.