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San Francisco billionaire gives $30 million to study homelessness

San Francisco billionaire gives $30 million to study homelessness
Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff. (Eric Risberg / Associated Press)

A San Francisco billionaire is donating $30 million to UC San Francisco to research root causes of homelessness and potential solutions.

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, a city native, has embraced homelessness as a philanthropic cause, pumping millions into a 2018 city measure to tax wealthy companies to pay for homeless services.

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The five-year initiative funded by Benioff will conduct academic research, provide testimony and fact sheets, and train people who have been homeless as expert speakers. The UCSF Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative will be part of the school’s Center for Vulnerable Populations, led by Margot Kushel.

Some San Francisco residents are frustrated with technology companies like Salesforce, a cloud-based software business, saying they contribute to inequality with high-paying jobs that drive up housing prices.

More than 4,000 people sleep on the streets every night in the city, where the median price of a two-bedroom home is $1.3 million. A family of four earning $117,400 a year is considered low income in San Francisco.

Benioff approached the university because he wanted officials spending tax money to make decisions with the best data available, Kushel said. The plan is for researchers to study the data and provide neutral, trusted analysis.

The initiative could help a city, for example, decide whether and how to implement an alcohol management program, study the results of that program and then broadly share the information.

“We want to be a rapid response team to really help the public,” Kushel said. “This is democratizing data; this is meant to get the data out there.”

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