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Craigslist founder asks tech industry to join him in giving back

Craigslist founder Craig Newmark committed himself to support the underprivileged of San Francisco when he arrived in the city 23 years ago, and now he's asking more companies to give back.

"I moved here in the middle of '93 — a good time to move here because it was just prior to the dotcom industry," Newmark said in an interview. "Now a lot of people can't afford to live here anymore. Restaurants and food [is] getting more expensive, housing is getting more expensive, and that concerns me. ... And that's why I'm inviting other people in tech to help out."

One of Newmark's earliest contributions was to St. Anthony's Foundation, which serves 2,400 hot meals daily to those in need, in addition to providing San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood with a medical clinic, free clothing and a technology lab.

Newmark played an "instrumental role" in creating the Tenderloin Tech Lab in 2008, spokesperson Anthony Singer said, and the Craigslist founder has been involved with the program ever since, even volunteering himself from time to time.

More than 100 people use the Tech Lab every day, Singer said, where they gain access to a variety of computer classes, one-on-one technology training, computer repair sessions, and other resources provided by tech companies, which include Twitter, Zendesk and Dolby.

"The resource that people seem to need the most is sometimes coaching in terms of creating a good resume, sometimes coaching when it comes to interviews. But in a way a lot of people just need the right nudge to see that on the internet, there's a lot of tools to help them get a job," Newmark said.

The tech industry can be especially discriminatory toward men and women over 40 who don't have work but who are looking for a job, Newmark said. He sees the Tech Lab as a resource for them to gain more skills and to build relationships with entrepreneurs and engineers who have succeeded in tech-based careers.


More companies should join: Newmark

Craigslist founder Craig Newmark volunteers at St. Anthony’s Dining Hall in the Tenderloin neighborhood in San Francisco.
Source: St. Anthonys
Craigslist founder Craig Newmark volunteers at St. Anthony’s Dining Hall in the Tenderloin neighborhood in San Francisco.

"The tech boom in San Francisco has been a mixed blessing," Newmark said. "It's helped contribute to some desperate housing shortages, and it's displaced a lot of people in a way I wish I was smart enough to resolve."

Newmark applauded companies such as Salesforce and Google for giving back, but he thinks there's more to be done and there are more ways for millennials to get involved to combat the growing problem of homelessness in San Francisco.

"You got to help [the homeless] get a job, hence my support for the Tenderloin Technology Lab," Newmark said. "A lot of that is about using technology to help people get a job"

According to San Francisco's Homeless Count & Survey, the number of homeless in streets and shelters in 2015 was 6,686, an increase of 250 from 2013. A 10-year analysis found a 7 percent increase in the number of homeless people in San Francisco between 2005 and 2015.

Many homeless surveyed by the city said that employment and income were not enough to meet their basic needs. The unemployment rate for homeless respondents in San Francisco was 89 percent, up from 62 percent in 2013.

"Money helps, awareness helps and getting volunteers out helps," Newmark said. "But I think the part where people in tech can help out most is through personal commitment in any form, and sometimes that just means relentless awareness in the form of reminding people that help is needed via social media."

Newmark declined to comment on the dollar amount that he's donated to organizations since moving to San Francisco. A spokesperson said that "public advocacy is just as — if not more — important than cash for many groups, and focusing on exact numbers undermines that message."