Silicon Valley’s tech giants should learn from Amazon’s homeless shelter

By Oliver Smith 11 May 2017
Image: Graphite/Amazon.

The retail giant has a solution for Seattle's homeless crisis.

This week a poverty-fighting non-profit in San Francisco pledged $100m to tackle the city’s homeless crisis, but that just won’t be enough.

Silicon Valley may be the home of the global technology industry, the birthplace of Apple, Google and HP, but among all that success it’s failed to look after those most in need.

Read more: Silicon Valley is ignoring its disgraceful homeless crisis

While San Francisco flounders with a homeless crisis thought to require $2bn of investment to solve – with little help from the tech giants nearby – just further north in the city of Seattle, Amazon may have a solution.

Amazon’s Shelter

The online retail giant is planning to devote half of its new six-story Seattle office building to a local homeless shelter.

When the new office opens in 2020 some 47,000 sq ft of space will be given to the Mary’s Place shelter, enough space for 65 rooms and to house 200 homeless women, children, and families every night.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, said the shelter “does incredible, life-saving work every day for women, children, and families experiencing homelessness in the Seattle community.”

“We are lucky to count them as neighbors and thrilled to offer them a permanent home within our downtown Seattle headquarters.”

It’s Amazon’s biggest philanthropic effort to date, a fightback against Seattle’s own homeless crisis, and a stark contrast to the tech giants in Silicon Valley.

An innovative solution

Last year when I profiled San Francisco’s homeless crisis, I called on any “solution the city comes to, to help the poorest in society, should be supported by the richest who live next door.”

Today that’s exactly what Amazon is doing in Seattle.

Amazon is showing that sometimes innovation doesn’t need to be app-based or digital to fix a problem, sometimes it’s as simple as giving some room to those who need it.

Whether it’s Apple’s vast ‘spaceship’ campus, Twitter’s towering headquarters, or the giant Googleplex, there’s no reason these corporate headquarters around San Francisco couldn’t give a little space for ‘innovative’ solutions to the everyday crisis that surrounds them.

Isn’t that supposed to be what they’re good at?