Hollywood Mostly Silent as Silicon Valley Pledges Billions to California’s Housing Crisis

Homeless Encampment_Hollywood - Getty - H 2019
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With the tech titans offering $4.5 billion to help create affordable housing, how much is the entertainment biz really doing to tackle the homelessness epidemic in Southern California.

Over the past five months, Facebook, Google and Apple have collectively pledged $4.5 billion to help address California's affordable housing crisis, a primary cause of the state's homeless epidemic.

So, how does the entertainment world stack up to Silicon Valley in combating the issue? For a town that prides itself on philanthropy, the answer is startling: Hollywood recently has ponied up an estimated less than 1 percent of the tech-industry pledges.

In March, Disney donated $5 million to help fund housing for the homeless in Orange County. A month later, the annual awards gala for L.A. Family Housing, which focuses on permanent housing and support services, raised $2 million; the event marked the 10th year it was chaired by Warner Bros. marketing chief Blair Rich.

But some showbiz players active on the issue — L.A. County's homeless population of around 59,000 was up 12 percent in one year — say efforts don't meet the scale of the issue.

"Entertainment industry leaders have been conspicuously absent," says Gary Foster, producer of The Soloist, which was set on Skid Row, and a board member of social service agency The People Concern. "The world sees L.A. as Hollywood. We need the entertainment industry to step up for L.A."

Rich readily admits that the town hasn't done enough, but adds that "it's not just the industry — it's our city. But there's an unfortunate assumption that the problem is too big, and that's created barriers of entry. People want to do something, but they don't know what to do."

Hollywood was also conspicuously absent Nov. 13 when Gov. Gavin Newsom assembled several dozen business leaders, including Google CEO Sundar Pichai, to discuss the role the private sector can play. Not a single person there represented the entertainment industry.

A spokesperson for the governor says he has no plans to hold a meeting with Hollywood leaders but that he "invites all industry in California to step up." But there are signs that many realize much more is needed. A source tells THR that Jeffrey Katzenberg is turning his philanthropic chops toward the issue (a spokesperson had no comment), while entrepreneur Jon Vein says that he's planning a 2020 summit in L.A. on homelessness.

In October, L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas was the guest of honor at a gathering of about 80 people from the entertainment industry held at the Los Feliz home of Rich and husband Zev Foreman, of eOne. A city coroner's office representative told attendees that, this year, twice as many people died on L.A. streets from homelessness as from homicide.

"Blair and I are collaborating on how we reach into the industry," says Ridley-Thomas, "and tell individuals that it's not cool to drive past people who are down and out, unless we stop and lift them up. We have to awaken the spirit to accomplish that."

This story first appeared in the Nov. 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.