- Jeff Bezos’s $US2 billion Day One Fund focuses on solving two issues: homelessness and gaps in early education.
- Bezos has indicated a desire to donate to places with the most urgent need, with a focus on short-term solutions.
- The billionaire’s scholarship program could go the furthest in Detroit and Las Vegas, while funding for the homeless could help mitigate the severe crises in LA and San Francisco.
In September, Jeff Bezos announced the launch of the Bezos Day One Fund, a $US2 billion philanthropic endeavour with two main goals: to support homeless families and develop early education programs in underserved communities.
Though most of his charitable efforts thus far have been private, Bezos has signalled an interest in both issues in the past. In 2016, he donated $US1 million to Mary’s Place, a homeless shelter near the Amazon headquarters in Seattle. Less than two years later, he donated another $US33 million to TheDream.US, a scholarship program for undocumented immigrants.
With the Bezos Day One Fund, the tech billionaire has an even bigger opportunity to address homelessness and educational barriers in the US.
In his request for input on Twitter, Bezos expressed a desire to help people “at the intersection of urgent need and lasting impact.” Roughly translated, that means donating to places where circumstances are dire, but change is possible.
Based on these conditions, the following cities could benefit the most from Bezos’ charitable efforts.
In his September announcement, Bezos stated his intent to build a “network of high-quality, full-scholarship, Montessori-inspired preschools.”
Few cities are more deserving of this program than Detroit, whose public schools are frequently deemed the worst in the country. The city consistently ranks last among major cities according to its national test results, which have fallen dramatically since they were last recorded in 2015.
This failure is the result of multiple systemic factors, including poverty, overcrowded classrooms, and a school district teetering on bankruptcy. With a scholarship program from Bezos, Detroit could perhaps break the cycle of poor education that currently plagues its students.
The Day One Fund might also help to address a significant health hazard in Detroit: exposure to lead in public schools, which can cause brain and nervous system damage, and, in extreme cases, death.
Just days after Bezos announced his One Day Fund, the Detroit Public Schools Community District revealed that at least 57 public schools had tested positive for high levels of lead in their drinking water. The list included a number of pre-kindergarten programs.
Las Vegas ranks considerably low according to both its quality of education and number of degree-earning citizens. While some officials expect these circumstances to improve in light of the state’s recent investments in education, residents still complain of overcrowded classrooms and a lack of funding from the Las Vegas school district.
These poor conditions have spilled over into the workforce as well. While Nevada’s overall unemployment rate is down, the size of its unemployed youth population is more than double the national average. Across the state, young residents cite a lack of education as the number one barrier to obtaining a meaningful job.
All signs point to Las Vegas as the epicentre of this crisis. Of the state’s 93 underperforming schools – those with low test scores and/or graduation rates – nearly half are located in the Las Vegas metropolitan area.
Los Angeles’s homeless population may be smaller than that of New York City, but its share of unsheltered residents is significantly higher. In LA, around 75% of homeless people either live on the streets or in makeshift dwellings like cars and tents, compared to just 5% of homeless residents in New York.
According to a 2018 report by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, the city now contains more than 53,000 homeless residents. In the last year alone, the report found, around 9,000 Angelenos experienced homelessness for the first time in their lives.
LA’s Skid Row represents the harrowing core of the crisis, a place where drugs, crime, and disease run rampant. Homelessness in the area dates back to the 19th century, and has shown no sign of slowing down. At night, around 1,800 people congregate in Skid Row’s homeless encampment, which represents one of the largest concentrations of homeless people in the US.
San Francisco has set aside millions to curb homelessness, but its efforts don’t seem to be making much headway. The city is still one of the top-ranking places for homelessness in the US, with more than eight out of every 1,000 residents living unsheltered or without a home.
Despite massive cleanup efforts, residents of the Tenderloin district have complained of open air drug markets, discarded heroin needles, and piles of poop on the footpath.
Bezos’s strategy of donating to local organisations that feed and shelter the homeless could help reduce some of the more visible signs of homelessness. But in the long run, San Francisco is in dire need of funds that tackle the issue’s root causes, including mental health problems and a lack of affordable housing.
For now, Bezos seems focused on transient homelessness, which he finds easier to tackle. “You only have to help [the temporarily homeless] for six to nine months,” he said in an April interview. “You get them trained. You get them a job. They are perfectly productive members of society.”