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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ charity donates $5 million to Catholic Charities housing project

Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO, created the Bezos Day One Families Fund in 2018. On Thursday, the fund announced a $5 million grant to Catholic Charities of Eastern Washington to help fund the proposed Gonzaga Family Haven complex in northeast Spokane for homeless families. (Cliff Owen / AP)

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ nonprofit will donate $5 million to Catholic Charities of Eastern Washington to help fund its latest housing project for homeless families, it announced on Thursday.

The grant from the Bezos Day One Families Fund will be primarily focused on Catholic Charities’ planned Gonzaga Family Haven complex in northeast Spokane, which will provide housing and social services to more than 70 homeless families.

The funding will also help supplement the nonprofit’s existing array of services for the homeless.

“There are so many things that we can now start to dream about doing that we wish we could have always done,” said Rob McCann, president and CEO of Catholic Charities.

The Gonzaga Family Haven project is a partnership among Catholic Charities, Gonzaga University and Gonzaga Prep, which is located adjacent to where the housing project will be built.

Housing at Gonzaga Family Haven will be permanent and include support services such as case management, employment services and more. It will be a landing spot for graduates of Catholic Charities’ Rising Strong program, which aims to provide intensive support to parents at risk of losing their children, but also take referrals from outside its own programs.

Students at both Gonzaga Prep and Gonzaga University are expected to have a role at Gonzaga Family Haven.

University students will participate through outreach such as youth mentoring and community. Gonzaga Prep will also look for ways for staff and students to volunteer at the new apartment complex.

“We look forward to the chance to extend (our) mission to the youth and residents of Gonzaga Family Haven, and hope someday to not only to be able to support their academic success at the elementary level, but to welcome them as students at Gonzaga Prep,” said Michael Dougherty, president of Gonzaga Prep.

Though it has long gotten a helping hand from Gonzaga Prep and Gonzaga University students, McCann said their involvement at Gonzaga Family Haven will be on a new level.

“We want students at this high school and this university to get to know these families and have a relationship with them and walk the path with them … so that they have a better understanding of what intergenerational poverty looks like and how they can help to alleviate it,” McCann said.

The grant will not single-handedly fund the apartment complex but will allow it to offer better services than originally planned, McCann said. That includes a larger community space and resources like mental health and behavioral counseling.

Although it is perhaps best known for its low-barrier House of Charity emergency shelter, Catholic Charities offers a plethora of services and housing for homeless individuals in Spokane. Gonzaga Family Haven would join Catholic Charities’ growing list of apartment complexes across Spokane, which combined offer more than 1,300 units of housing.

Just as Amazon has disrupted entire industries, McCann said Catholic Charities plans to disrupt homelessness in Spokane. McCann acknowledged the ongoing public debate over homelessness in Spokane, which intensified during the recent city elections. He advocated that the community move forward.

“Now we’re in a different place. I think this is a time for healing and collaboration and coming together as a community,” McCann said.

Details about Gonzaga Family Haven first publicly emerged in August.

The project is planned for five parcels of land owned by the city of Spokane at the corner of Hamilton Street and North Foothills Drive. In August, the Spokane City Council passed a letter of intent to sell the property. Now, the city and Gonzaga Haven, LLC, are actively negotiating an agreement to buy the property.

If its applications are approved, the project also will be funded by federal tax credits and Housing Trust Fund dollars from the state of Washington.

The only remaining major obstacles to the Gonzaga Family Haven are securing a land deal with the city and federal tax credits, McCann said. If it all goes according to plan, construction could begin next spring or summer and the complex could open in 2021.

The property is owned by the city’s water department. The bulk of the land is an empty parking lot, but it does include a small building used by code enforcement employees, who would have to be relocated if the sale goes through. The parcels in the sale would be 2809, 2811, 2817 and 2821 N. Nevada St., and 920 E. Wolverton Court.

Catholic Charities is one of 32 charities across the country to receive funding in 2019 from the Day One Families Fund. The grants announced this year totaled $98.5 million.

Bezos’ net worth is estimated to exceed $100 billion, according to Forbes. Unlike his ex-wife, Mackenzie Bezos, Jeff Bezos has not joined other megawealthy icons like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates by pledging to donate more than half of his wealth to charity over his lifetime or in his will.

Bezos committed $2 billion to the fund when he launched it in 2018, pledging to award grants to existing nonprofits that provide services to homeless families and launch a network of new preschools in low-income communities.