Silicon Valley has some of the country's more dizzying gaps in income inequality. Wealthy enclaves are built besides some of the Valley's poorest neighborhoods, leaving family services underfunded and municipalities writing laws that punish the poor. Now their own congresswoman is calling out tech CEOs for not doing enough to help:
"The biggest problem in this country isn't Ebola or ISIS — it's Income inequality," says U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, whose Congressional district includes East Palo Alto, San Mateo and Redwood City. "It affects everything."
With so much revenue generated within San Mateo County — home to Facebook, NetSuite, GoPro and others — it is "not good enough for companies to give a few dollars," Speier says. "They need to give more."
Homelessness has become a distinct, rapidly-intensifying problem in Silicon Valley since the housing bubble burst in 2007. Since then, the area's homeless have flocked to camps like "The Jungle." That tent city, minutes from downtown San Jose, has swelled to 350-plus people in recent years and is now thought to be the largest homeless camp in the United States.
The tech industry's philanthropic donations have been mostly anemic, forcing Silicon Valley's struggling communities to build their own support networks. Even so, the area lacks services for the homeless and families in need. For example, Palo Alto saw one of its last homeless shelters close over the summer for redevelopment.
Speier has a plan to fix it:
"We need to get CEOs to do two things: live on food stamps for a day, or spend a night in a homeless shelter," says Speier, who has done both. "It is a very humbling experience."
Her hope is that tech leaders might empathize with the people who live outside their corporate campuses and start donating. But that's a lot to ask of these guys. Just losing the free food option is "soul crushing" enough.