Sawant brushes off Bezos' $2 billion homeless pledge as attempt to 'whitewash his image'
SEATTLE -- A $2 billion pledge from Jeff Bezos to help homeless families and create a network of preschools in low-income neighborhoods wasn't welcome news to one Seattle City Councilmember Thursday.
Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who backed a failed employee hours tax on Amazon and Seattle’s other largest businesses, said Bezos’ announcement on Twitter was far from altruistic.
"This is Jeff Bezos, like every other billionaire, trying to whitewash his image,” Sawant told KOMO.
On the same day Bezos announced the creation of his “Bezos Day One Fund,” a new Seattle City Council committee focused on homelessness and affordable housing met. Sawant, who is part of the committee, made some quick remarks before leaving the meeting early.
She told her fellow councilmember that much of what they, members of Mayor Jenny Durkan’s staff, as well as leaders from City Light, parks and recreation and public health were presenting were things already discussed in a different committee.
“The question of taxing big business and the wealthy cannot be ducked,” Sawant told her colleagues.
Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, who kicked off the City Hall meeting, told the audience that “we are not going to be reviewing the causes of homelessness, goodness knows we’ve been doing that for a lot of time many years.”
At last count, more than 12,000 people are living unsheltered in King County. Previous Seattle Mayor Ed Murray declared a homeless state of emergency in the fall of 2015.
Speakers at Thursday’s committee meeting said the cities all along the West Coast have seen a major spike in homelessness.
Bagshaw asked her colleagues and presenters, “alright what are we going to do now to really solve this?”
Bezos in his Tweet did not say who would receive funds. He said they “will issue annual leadership awards to organizations and civic groups doing compassionate, needle-moving work to provide shelter and hunger support to address the immediate needs of young families.”
Bezos, in his Tweet, mentioned the “inspiring Mary’s Place in Seattle.”
Marty Hartman, Executive Director of Mary’s Place, told KOMO they have worked closely with Amazon for years.
“They have been right beside us,” said Hartman, whose organization helps women, children and families find housing and services. “They [Amazon] have identified the need, they have seen their neighbors outside. They have wanted to respond to the children sleeping outside.”
Hartman said no one at Amazon or the Bezos family have told her anything further about the Day One Fund. She said she was flattered Mary’s Place was named in the Tweet.
“So grateful, so surprised; was not surprised by the love and generosity from Jeff and MacKenzie,” Hartman said.
But Sawant said people shouldn’t consider the $2 billion fund a gift.
“I don’t think we should look at this as a gift. Nothing comes free from the billionaire class,” she said.
Sawant said Bezos should have backed the head tax, which would have raised an estimated $47 million per year for homeless services and low-income housing. The tax seemed to have the support of most of city council until a stunning 7-2 vote against it; which came after a business-backed movement to kill it.
Sawant said Bezos needs to support higher wages and improved working conditions for his workers as well.