Twitter will partner with a nonprofit serving San Francisco's homeless families to design a learning center where company employees will teach tech skills to some of the city's poorest residents.
The microblogging company's investment in the learning center, dubbed the Twitter Neighborhood Nest, will be "north of $1 million" over the course of the multiyear partnership, Colin Crowell, Twitter vice president of global public policy, told The Chronicle.
"This will be a major breakthrough for our families," said Erica Kisch, executive director of Compass Family Services, which serves 3,500 homeless families. "To make it in the world today, just to make it through school, you need these skills."
The company is scouting locations close to both Twitter's Mid-Market campus and Compass' clients. Twitter donated 81 used computers to Compass last week and will provide technical support, "which is something Compass has always struggled to budget for," Kisch said.
Its employees will volunteer to train homeless families.
Twitter CEO Dick Costolo plans to formally announce the partnership at a gala celebrating Compass' 100th anniversary Tuesday night.
Compass "is an invaluable resource to the community, and I've been deeply impressed with their success at getting families back on their feet," Costolo, described as the driving force behind the partnership, said in an email.
The agreement is another olive branch from the city's growing tech sector. While the tech boom has lowered San Francisco's unemployment rate to 4.8 percent, 1 in 5 Bay Area residents lives in poverty, and soaring housing prices have forced many low- and middle-income residents to leave the city.
'Tech sector is getting it'
Tech leaders including Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff and Zendesk CEO Mikkel Svane have recently pushed their colleagues to give.
"It really feels like we're turning a corner - that the tech sector is getting it," Kisch said. "There are a number of initiatives that show these tech companies want to be part of the community."
In Twitter's case, being a part of the community isn't just a goal - it's an obligation. In a deal to keep the company from leaving San Francisco, the city allowed certain Mid-Market companies 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 could count in future years.
Peter Masiak, chairman of the citizens advisory committee on these agreements and a critic of the tax breaks, cheers the project. But he wants to make sure that Twitter, valued at $19 billion, and companies like it fulfill their obligations.
"It's a great thing that they're making this contribution to Compass - I'm encouraged by that - but it shouldn't be a substitute for what they're supposed to do," Masiak said.
Major benefits for agency
The partnership intends to help some of San Francisco's neediest, but it won't directly address the city's affordable-housing crisis, which some blame on tech. Crowell sees the program as a way to help people get the technical skills they need to succeed in the workforce.
"The issue of affordable housing in a city with a current limitation in affordable housing stock is something that's broader or bigger than any one company," Crowell said. "It's about providing a skill set to a population that would find such a skill set valuable to many aspects of their lives."
The donation will be a huge boon for Compass, 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.
Though Twitter and Compass leaders were unsure of the size of the proposed space, Crowell expects it will accommodate 30 in a classroom setting with computers. It will include a lounge area for more informal instruction, a kitchenette and an area for children whose parents are studying. The site will also offer instruction for youths.
For now, Compass will be the center's anchor tenant, though eventually other programs could be there, too.
Teaching basic skills
Compass will screen which clients would be best suited to use the center, which is set to open in June 2015. Kisch envisions clients accessing the center with something akin to a library card.
"Once clients get signed up and signed in, they can use it as they see fit," she said.
Both Kitsch and Crowell emphasized that the center does not intend to teach coding skills to the homeless. Instead it will teach basic technology skills, including how to access government services - which are increasingly online - and how to apply for jobs. More than 80 percent of the jobs at Fortune 500 companies allow applicants to apply online only.
"That's not just about getting jobs at Twitter or Dropbox or Yelp," Crowell said. "That's about getting jobs at Target and Costco, too."
©2014 the San Francisco Chronicle