Jeff Bezos, chief executive officer of Inc. and founder of Blue Origin LLC, speaks during the 32nd Space Symposium in Colorado Springs. (Photographer: Matthew Staver/Bloomberg)

Jeff Bezos Battles Homelessness by Giving $98 Million to Charities

(Bloomberg) -- Jeff Bezos provided the first donations as part of his pledge to help homeless families with $97.5 million in grants to two dozen nonprofit groups across the country.

The awards are the first distribution from the $2 billion Day One Fund, which the Inc. chief executive officer and his wife, MacKenzie, launched in September. Its dual mission is to provide aid for the homeless and to fund a network of nonprofit preschools.

The 24 recipient organizations announced Tuesday are sprinkled across the country from California to North Carolina and range from the Catholic Charities Archdiocese to the Salvation Army and local family and housing services. Fifteen of the charities were bestowed with $5 million gifts and the remainder received $2.5 million donations.

The announcement comes shortly after Amazon revealed it will open huge new offices in New York and Arlington, Virginia, sparking a backlash over whether the arrival of the e-commerce giant will displace local residents by driving up housing costs. One group in New York and two in Washington were among those receiving the grants from the Day One Fund.

Bezos, Amazon’s founder and the world’s richest man, said the goal of the fund is to "shine a light and support the organizations that are doing compassionate, needle-moving work to provide shelter for young families in communities across the country."

The awarded charities offer emergency shelter "for families to get on their feet" and provide access to permanent housing and support services, Bezos said in a blog post. The Refugee Women’s Alliance in Amazon’s hometown of Seattle received $2.5 million; the Urban Resource Institute in New York was awarded $5 million; FrontLine Service in Cleveland was given $2.5 million and LA Family Housing in North Hollywood collected $5 million, among others. "We hope these grants provide the additional resources these leaders and their organizations need to expand the scope and impact of their efforts," Bezos wrote.

With a personal fortune of $126 billion, Bezos had been largely invisible in the world of philanthropy before launching the fund. Last year, Bezos solicited advice from the public via Twitter, asking how he could best use his wealth to help people “right now.” At the time, he said he was interested in projects that address urgent need but also produce lasting impact.

The recipients of the awards seemed grateful for the gift.
When Susan Neth found out her organization, FrontLine Service, was being awarded $2.5 million, she said she was in shock. "I just wanted to shout to the skies," Neth said. "This is a tremendous celebration for us and our entire community."

Homelessness in Cleveland has been growing over the past few years and FrontLine Service is focused on supporting at-risk families with children under the age of 5, Neth said. "This is going to take us much further than where we are right now," she said.

On Monday, Bezos personally emailed Mahnaz Eshetu, the executive director of Seattle’s Refugee Women’s Alliance, to say he was happy to help the organization "move its mission forward," she said.

Eshetu said she first found out the alliance would receive the $2.5 million donation last week. "I was thrilled and excited," she said. "In this political climate, it was nice to know somebody cared."

Bezos has yet to discuss details on the fund’s pre-school initiative, but the website suggests an announcement could be forthcoming: "Stay tuned for updates."

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