He Made Billions Co-Founding Airbnb — Now Joe Gebbia Turns His Attention to the Homeless Crisis

Joe Gebbia donated $25 million to assist San Francisco's homeless and helped launch Airbnb.org, a non-profit that enables hosts on Airbnb to house people in times of crisis

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Joe Gebbia. Photo: Joe Gebbia

Joe Gebbia is using his platform for good.

The Airbnb co-founder recently made a $25 million personal donation to help two San Francisco charities working to eradicate homelessness: Rising Up- Larkin Street Youth Services and All Home.

His generous donation will assist the organizations in their efforts to provide housing and aid for people facing economic hardships amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

"I've lived in San Francisco for 14 years. It's the birthplace of my company and the place I came to fulfill a dream," Gebbia, 39, tells PEOPLE. "I have this deep, almost kindred connection to it, and seeing the city suffer in certain ways weighs on me."

"I'd always looked forward to the day where I could do something big for the city," he adds. "Now, with COVID and the very real impact on the economy, it's put people in a more precarious situation than ever before."

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Joe Gebbia with kids at the Hayes Valley Court for the Kevin Durant Foundation. Joe Gebbia

Gebbia says he selected the charities after thoroughly researching homelessness and connecting with people and groups who had "a true understanding of these complex issues."

One of those people ended up being Gebbia's mentor, philanthropist Ron Conway. During their conversation, Conway suggested that a monetary donation would be the best way to help "people find homes, find shelter, find a place to fall asleep and feel safe at night."

"I wanted to find something that was city-wide," Gebbia says. "It seemed like the right time to step in on the prevention side at the local level."

"In many ways, I think that's a fundamental human right that is easily overlooked — the right to fall asleep at night and feel safe," he adds.

Joe Gebbia with Malala
Joe Gebbia during his trip to Kenya and Rwanda with UNHCR and the Malala Fund. Joe Gebbia

Giving back is nothing new for the Airbnb co-founder, who previously launched a scholarship and endowed fund at his alma mater, Rhode Island School of Design.

He has also supported the Kevin Durant Foundation as they redevelop basketball and tennis courts in his hometown, and currently serves on the Advisory Council for United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

"It's been so fun and rewarding," Gebbia says of his philanthropic efforts, adding that his trips to Africa with the UNHCR and the Malala Fund (Gebbia serves on the Leadership Council) were "very eye-opening."

Additionally, Gebbia and his team have expanded Airbnb's philanthropic efforts by launching Airbnb.org.

The non-profit enables hosts on Airbnb to temporarily offer their homes to people in times of crisis, according to a news release.

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Joe Gebbia with kids on trip to Kenya and Rwanda as part of his work with the Malala Fund. Joe Gebbia

To date, it has helped more than 75,000 people find housing through its partnership with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Community Organized Relief Effort (CORE) and Mercy Corps, among others, according to Airbnb.org.

"We want to build the world's largest humanitarian housing platform... [and] thanks to our extremely generous host community, it's entirely possible," he says.

According to Gebbia, hosts around the world initially offered their homes for free or at a discounted rate to "those displaced by natural disasters or asylum seekers settling in a new country."

"We found a moment where our platform can help," Gebbia explains. "It's the moment when someone is granted asylum to a new country. They land, they're at the airport — where do they sleep that night? We could answer that question because we are experts in short-term accommodations."

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But then last March, Gebbia says the nonprofit's mission took on an entirely new meaning when COVID-19 hit.

"We adapted and offered to house frontline workers," he says. "This was nurses and doctors; those who were having to sleep in cars and in parking garages because they didn't want to put their family at risk."

Through their platform, Gebbia says they were able to make more than 200,000 listings available to those working in health facilities or testing centers.

Gebbia himself also got involved, making an additional $2 million donation to the nonprofit, which went towards the housing of frontline workers.

"We were able to give them a safe place to get a good night's sleep so that they could go back to work the next day," he says. "We can provide that buffer... and that's exactly what we started doing."

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