Marc Benioff Doubles Down on Ending Homelessness in the Bay Area

The founder and co-CEO of Salesforce, Marc Benioff, recently came out in support of Proposition C, a San Francisco ballot initiative to levy a 0.5 percent tax on business receipts totaling more than $50 million. The tax would raise an additional $300 million for San Francisco to use in combatting the homelessness crisis and effectively double the city’s spending on the issue. A number of local organizations, including the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness, have backed the proposition, but not everyone agrees with the proposal.

Image by JD LasicaFlickr

In addition to the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, one of the most outspoken opponents to Proposition C is London Breed, the city’s mayor. While Mayor Breed has identified homelessness as a top priority for her administration, she claims the new measure could actually increase homelessness in the city by attracting people from elsewhere. In addition, she says the measure lacks accountability and assumes that funding can be allocated more quickly than it would be in reality. Many state legislators and former mayor of San Francisco Gavin Newsom have advocated a holistic approach to ending homelessness that involves other local governments.

Benioff’s Commitment to Ending Bay Area Homelessness

For his part, Benioff advocates for more public spending and an aggressive approach to ending homelessness. To promote Proposition C, he dedicated $500,000 of his own money to the campaign, in addition to $500,000 from Salesforce. Benioff has also pledged to spend an additional $1 million on his own advertising campaign to generate support for the cause. All of this comes with an inherent pledge of even more funding to help end homelessness in the Bay Area, because the new initiative would increase Salesforce’s taxes by about $10 million each year. However, Benioff points out that recent federal tax cuts have reduced the company’s taxes by at least that amount, so the burden is not too heavy.

In recent years, Benioff has dedicated a considerable amount of his own money to help people experiencing homelessness. He has directly helped house a number of families through millions of dollars in donations and has emerged as a vocal advocate for more street programs. Proposition C would significantly increase the amount of money available to support these programs, which he views as the main way to reduce the current crisis. However, his recent donations are the strongest political action he’s taken to date.

The Impact of Benioff and His Support for Proposition C

Benioff respects the position the Chamber of Commerce and Mayor Breed have taken and recognizes risks are certainly involved with the approach he favors. At the same time, the Bay Area has a booming economy and public frustration has reached a point where more radical approaches may be required. In Benioff’s eyes, the state of the crisis more than justifies the risk. According to a report from the San Francisco Office of Economic Analysis, the funds raised by Proposition C would provide housing for 5,000 people and substantially boost mental health programs to help address some of the underlying causes of homelessness. In addition, the money would help create 1,000 new shelter beds to help people get off the street while devising more permanent solutions.

Regardless of how the politics play out, Benioff’s public support of the proposition shines a spotlight on the issue and could perhaps recruit additional support from other tech companies. Benioff’s advertising budget will include radio, print, television and digital campaigns, with at least one celebrity supporting the cause. Importantly, these campaigns will use pictures of individuals experiencing homelessness to help humanize them and their needs. This strategy could have a significant impact on San Franciscans, while setting a new bar for other executives interested in philanthropy.

In many ways, Benioff sees his role as an entrepreneur and businessman as different from that of elected officials, who need to be more calculated with their risks and consider all the different stakeholders they represent. He recognizes Mayor Breed has a duty to her office, but he can take a different approach. He hopes to convince other members of the tech community to support the measure and has used simple math to attract more people to his side. Two years ago, Benioff helped start the Heading Home Initiative with an initial donation of $11.5 million. Using a total budget of $37 million, the organization has housed 400 families, which averages to a cost of about $35,000 per person. Thus, $250 million would be enough to care for all 7,500 people currently experiencing homelessness in San Francisco, roughly the amount Proposition C would raise.