Cisco on Monday pledged $50 million to fight homelessness in Silicon Valley in what appears to be the largest donation ever made by a local company in response to the growing crisis.
The money, to be distributed over five years, will go toward building extremely low-income and supportive housing in Santa Clara County, funding homelessness prevention programs such as skills training and rent assistance, and improving the technology and data collection used by homeless organizations, according to the company. Cisco has contributed the first $20 million already, through the Cisco Fund at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.
With an estimated 7,394 homeless people living in the county as of January 2017, pressure is mounting for a solution to the problem festering in the midst of Silicon Valley's tech industry-fueled prosperity.
"There's been unparalleled success in the tech community, particularly here in Silicon Valley," Cisco Chairman and CEO Chuck Robbins (above) said Monday from the stage of The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose. "There's an increasing divide between the success and those that are struggling in the community."
While other Silicon Valley tech companies have put money toward sheltering the homeless and building affordable housing, Cisco's massive contribution is likely the first of its size, said Jennifer Loving, CEO of Destination: Home, which will distribute the $50 million donation. The sum even dwarfs donations that corporations, foundations and other private entities across the nation have given to fight homelessness.
"Cisco recognizes we need to have a community that is thriving and working for everyone who lives here," Loving said in an interview, "and they have taken this really incredibly bold move to invest in Silicon Valley poverty and homelessness to a degree that we have never seen before."
Destination: Home is part of the Santa Clara County supportive housing system that has helped place 5,154 people over the past three years -- 94 percent of whom stayed housed.
Robbins announced the $50 million donation during an event celebrating Destination: Home's 10th anniversary and was met with thunderous applause and cheers.
The reason the tech industry for so long has overlooked the homelessness in its backyard, Robbins told the crowd, is that companies tend to give money to causes that are directly relevant to their business, such as STEM education in schools. Or they are quick to pull out their checkbooks when faced with international crises, such as helping Syrian refugees abroad.
"We need to do something at home," Robbins said.
Monday's contribution isn't the first Cisco has made toward fighting homelessness in Silicon Valley. The tech giant last year pledged $10 million to Housing Trust Silicon Valley's TECH fund, on the condition that it would be matched by other contributors. The Sobrato Family Foundation and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation stepped up to the challenge, investing $5 million each. LinkedIn followed in December with a $10 million investment.
Prior to Cisco's $50 million donation, Loving says Google's $1 million contribution to Destination: Home's homelessness prevention fund last year was the biggest single donation the organization had received from the tech sector.
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, who also spoke at the event Monday, commended Robbins for his contribution. The homelessness crisis, Liccardo said, is the "moral imperative of our generation."
"That human suffering in our Valley is something we absolutely have to resolve," Liccardo said.
Loving and Robbins both say they hope Monday's donation will inspire other companies to do more to help.
"In Silicon Valley, we have all of the problem and all of the solution in the same 20-mile radius," Loving said. "We have people who can solve homelessness, and companies that can help solve homelessness, along with thousands of people who slept outside last night."
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Image credit: Cisco; Artist's concept.