Homelessness Conversation Dominates Salesforce Tower Grand Opening

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff urged the city to band together to solve homelessness and invest in public education.

Salesforce founder and CEO Marc Benioff, Mayor Mark Farrell and Supervisor Jane Kim hold hands during a prayer at the grand opening of Salesforce Tower on Tuesday, May 22, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

For a building ribbon-cutting event, San Francisco’s responsibility to solve homelessness and support local schools sure came up a lot.

That’s mostly thanks to Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, who ended the Salesforce Tower Grand Opening on Tuesday with a booming call to unite as city residents and bridge divisions to work on issues of homelessness and public education. With the announcement that the company has donated $100 million to local schools, Benioff also announced a new goal of $200 million to “get every homeless individual off these streets.”

“We see extreme wealth…but also grinding poverty in the shadow of this building,” Benioff said. “We have an obligation to one another.” 

Sure, there was plenty of talk about the years of painstaking work it took to build the city’s tallest building and how much it will add to San Francisco. But a message of investing in the city, for both businesses and individuals, stole the show crawling with movers and shakers, from mayoral candidates to former San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr.

Benioff spoke particularly high of the teachers and administrators in San Francisco Unified School District and the need to help keep them in the city while eliminating homelessness among its students.

“Successful cities and successful businesses go hand in hand,” Benioff continued. “It’s up to us.”

Religious leaders with the San Francisco Interfaith Council set the tone by calling for the new tower to represent justice, charity and a reminder that San Franciscans are one family. (The top floor is dubbed “Ohana,” which means family and family means nobody gets left behind — or forgotten.)

After recapping how the recession served as a challenge in garnering investment, Supervisor Jane Kim, who represents the district where the Salesforce Tower sits, called Salesforce a “great company, great San Francisco resident and great neighbor.” Benioff announced at the event that he and the company’s foundation, Salesforce.org, would each donate $1.5 million to the Hamilton Families’ Heading Home Initiative, which places struggling families in permanent housing.

“There’s an invisible side to the homelessness count,” Kim said, referring to families sleeping in cars or motels. “This is an immoral travesty.”

If Benioff and Salesforce haven’t already donated millions of dollars to local schools and hospitals, we might be inclined to call it all cheesy puff talk. But as an individual and CEO, Benioff had led the way in redistributing wealth generated from the tech boom.

“Marc and Lynne [Benioff], you really demonstrate what it is to be San Franciscan,” Mayor Mark Farrell said to Benioff and his wife. “We just simply need more people you in our city.” 

As Benioff implored other tech companies to continue giving money to effective causes, he also called on other residents to think “together as one San Francisco” and not to scapegoat tech for chronic issues that existed before the boom.

“Instead of seeing us as part of the problem…tech wants to be part of the solution,” Benioff said. 

Update: A previous version of this article stated that Salesforce “has donated $100 to local schools.” The full amount is $100 million.

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