Homeless campout at Gates Foundation, want cash

Oct 12, 2011

“Charity begins at home” and hundreds of people in Seattle are now looking at a wet, cold winter with no place to sleep.

That’s what homelessness advocate Jarvis Capucion said to me when I asked him why protesters decided to camp outside the Seattle campus of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation this week.

“Jimmy Buffett’s 'Singing for Change' project gave us $10,000 a few months ago,” said Capucion. “I want to know why Warren Buffett and Bill Gates can’t do the same.”

Capucion and others with SHARE/WHEEL, a consortium of Seattle-based organizations run by and advocating for the homeless, are protesting lack of funding and the closure of 15 homeless shelters. It’s not just the Gates Foundation they’re trying to pressure into offering assistance, but Capucion said it seemed like a good place to start because they are “highly visible.”

Other targets

Amazon, Microsoft, Starbucks, Costco and other local corporations that claim to care for the community are also on the list and could be future SHARE/WHEEL camping sites, Capucion said.

However, the Seattlepi.com reports, SHARE/WHEEL has a history of shaky funding – and of dramatic protests. In 2007, 10 homeless people from the advocacy community were arrested after locking themselves in a low-incoming housing complex slated to be town down.

In its statement explaining why they’ve targeted the Gates Foundation, SHARE/WHEEL said:

"We have decided to do it here because it will shine a light on the corporate foundation that should be doing more for poor people in its own community."

Corporate foundation?

“All their money comes from Microsoft, corporate profits and Wall Street,” Capucion said. “They get all the tax breaks and the bail-outs while government services to the poor keep getting cut.”

The Gates Foundation is the world’s largest philanthropy and is primarily focused on helping those living in extreme poverty overseas. But they do spend a significant amount of money on local and regional problems as well, including projects aimed at ending homelessness such as the Sound Families Initiative.

David Bley, director of Pacific Northwest initiatives for the Gates Foundation, issued this statement in response to the protests.

“We are deeply committed to addressing homelessness in the Puget Sound region. During the past decade, in partnership with non-profits, and state and local governments, we’ve helped to create more than 1,400 affordable apartments for families emerging from homelessness.

We support efforts in King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties to move families more quickly into permanent housing and to provide them with the employment and other services they need in a more efficient and streamlined way.”

Charitable on 'some levels'

What the Gates Foundation doesn’t usually do is provide individual grants to agencies like SHARE/WHEEL who provide services.

“The Gates Foundation has been very charitable on some levels,” Capucion said. But most of that money goes to agencies and organizations that are launching their own projects or administering funds to others. Or doing studies on how to end homelessness, he added.

“Meanwhile, we’re heading into winter and people don’t have shelter,” Capucion said. People can die and suffer here, too, he said.