The last time a startup programmer taught a homeless man to code, the naive vanity project failed. A few engineering lessons failed to solve socioeconomic realities and the man was still sleeping in the streets eight months later. But Twitter has higher hopes for its new "learning center" where employees can "teach tech skills" to San Francisco's homeless.
"The NeighborNest" is slated to open next summer across the street from Twitter's Mid-Market offices. Given Twitter's history of half-assed local initiatives, it looks like they set up the center to save tens of millions on payroll taxes.
Twitter is investing $1 million in the facility, which will be a partnership with Compass Family Services, which serves 3,500 homeless families, many of whom are from the surrounding neighborhood. Compass is the main nonprofit agency serving homeless families in San Francisco, overseeing an $8 million annual budget and seven programs, including a family shelter, a rent-subsidy program and Clara House, a 35-resident center in Hayes Valley.
Twitter leaders have met for several months with homeless families, service providers and other stakeholders to riff ideas on what the center will look like.
And those plans look great!
But will Twitter actually hire any of their students? Past promises from San Francisco tech firms to hire struggling locals for entry-level position were never fulfilled. One report found that of the six firms—including Twitter—that pledged to hire their Tenderloin neighbors, only one person received a full-time job:
That's it: one full-time hire and five summer interns out of the neighborhood's 30,000 population. So central city residents can only hope that they will be the 1 in 5,000 who snags some sort of job at Big Tech.
Someone who pays for a weekend General Assembly coding class probably has a better shot at getting a tech job than the community members promised positions—unless Twitter also instructs them on Silicon Valley's obsession with "culture fit."
We asked a Twitter representative if they were guaranteeing that a portion of their students would get living wage positions at the company. The representative skirted the question, instead saying "[the program is] not just about coding." According to the Chronicle, Twitter employees will also teach "resume-writing to homeless folks."
In a deal to keep the company from leaving San Francisco, the city allowed certain Mid-Market companies — like Twitter — to avoid payroll taxes for six years by signing a community benefits agreement promising contributions to nearby areas, some of the poorest parts of the Bay Area. The Compass partnership will not count toward Twitter's obligations for this year's agreement, but company officials say it will count toward future obligations.