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Are Tech Companies to be Blamed for the Homelessness Crisis in the San Francisco Bay Area?

Many technological improvements occur each day in the San Francisco Bay Area, especially the peninsula and South Bay region. Silicon Valley is a region in the Bay Area well-known as the global center for high technology and innovation. Apple, Google, HP, Intel, Adobe, Cisco, eBay, and several other major tech giants have established their headquarters in Silicon Valley, and they operate from the region with continued business success from the 1970s to now. 

Besides the fact that significant technological innovations have taken place, the Bay Area is home to one of the largest homeless populations in the United States. According to The Human Service Agency, the agency’s data points out that the homeless count reached around 6,436, with about 3,401 living on the streets.

Many critics living in the Bay Area would point out that the number one reason for the massive homelessness crisis is tech companies. One of California’s reasons for the sharp surge in homelessness is the lack of housing. Issi Romem, the founder of the housing research institute MetroSight, points out that the tech boom in recent years is part of the “essential ingredient” in creating the housing crisis. 

By the end of 2019, rents in San Francisco and San Jose averaged more than $3,000 a month, making the Bay Area one of the US’s most expensive places to buy a home. The number of people working in the Bay Area has increased by 20%, from 3.4 million in 2010 to 4.1 million in 2019. This increase in the number of people working is partly attributed to the tech boom that occurred in the early 2010s. Population growth in that time-averaged almost 100,000 people a year. 

Some of the most stringent zoning regulations in the US, which prohibit outward growth and densification, are at the heart of the issue in San Francisco. Efforts to enable more new buildings were met with opposition, as some of the general public believe that the planning policy and tech firms residing in the Bay Area are to blame for the housing problem in the region.

Radulovich similarly cautions that success depends on policymaking, not just the presence of tech. “Even though all these companies have come in, even though we’ve seen all this extraordinary growth, the streets don’t feel cleaner, and transit doesn’t feel like it works better,” he says. “Nothing feels like it’s better maintained or adequately supplied.”

What are the tech giants doing to combat the situation? An article from Forbes mentions the five ways the tech industry can help fix the homeless crisis: favoring advocacy over money, prioritizing reskill programs, making community engagement a mission, leveraging your tech, and housing.

Peter Hero, the former CEO of Silicon Valley Community Foundation, mentions how difficult it was to persuade tech titans to donate to homeless initiatives. Despite the early resistance, there are signs that powerful tech companies are starting to become more engaged as Apple, Alphabet (Google’s parent company), and Facebook have pledged a total of $4 billion to support housing and build affordable homes. 

Between 2010 and 2018, the population of the Bay Area increased by 8.4%, driven in large part by the need for tech talent to fill new jobs, as CNBC puts it. Twitter, a well-known social media company located on Market Street, near the Tenderloin district, pledges to combat the homelessness crisis by giving back to the city. 

Tech companies who chose to set up camp in low-income neighborhoods receive tax breaks to give them an incentive to stay in San Francisco, called the “community benefits agreement.” To receive the tax breaks, they are required to perform tasks to help improve their troubled neighborhoods. The idea behind this is that after multi-million dollar tax breaks, tech companies will have to give back to their city on what they’ve earned.

Tech hubs are stepping up to invest money and time to solve the root causes of this crisis. Companies like Airbnb and Twilio have joined forces, committing $2.7 million towards preventing chronic homelessness. Google.org has granted over $20 million to tackle the complexities of homelessness. Salesforce’s CEO Marc Benioff has also joined in the fight by donating millions to local homeless services in the past years. 

Okta is a San Francisco software-based company that is stepping in raising awareness to combat the ongoing issue. The company has contributed $500,000 to a non-profit organization called Tipping Point Community, which aims at education workforce development, housing, and early childhood development. Tipping Point has amassed support from Workday and Box in its $100 million effort to reduce chronic homelessness in San Francisco.  

The number of tech companies joining the fight to tackle the challenges of homelessness continues to increase each day. The best way to eradicate homelessness in the Bay Area and elsewhere is to have everyone involved, not just tech companies or non-profits like The HomeMore Project, contribute their time and effort in combating this ongoing issue.

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