I don't pretend that this is likely to be highest impact in terms of maximizing global utility, but I have a subjective preference to contribute to causes which help mitigate homelessness in San Francisco (alongside my donations to higher impact causes). Does anyone have suggestions for charities that would be worthwhile recipients?




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My moderately-informed opinion here is that donating to CA YIMBY is probably a fair amount more effective than donating to organizations providing direct services in SF.  Current annual spending on homelessness in SF is $668m, or about $33k per person who spends at least some part of the year homeless. My best guess is that adding additional marginal dollars to that is unlikely to make big changes. On the flip side, marginal spending is likely to make a much bigger difference to CA YIMBY, which has annual spending in the single-digit millions. With that budget, CA YIMBY has successfully lobbied for bills that are estimated to lead to the construction of 2.2 million new housing units in California. 

My understanding is that CA YIMBY impacts homelessness in three ways. First, their work in enabling additional housing construction addresses the biggest root cause of homelessness, which is high housing costs. Second, because NIMBY laws also tend to impede the construction of low-income and supportive housing, YIMBY reforms enable existing homelessness spending to go farther in actually getting people housed. Third, CA YIMBY directly lobbies for state-level funding for low-income and supportive housing, unlocking more resources with which to address homelessness in SF. 

With all that said, the disadvantage of donating to political advocacy is that it take a long time to translate into material changes (laws need to pass, housing needs to get built), and I don't have anything like a good numerical estimate of how many dollars to CA YIMBY would translate into a currently homeless individual eventually getting housing. 

I don't think it makes sense from an EA worldview to seek the best charity within a specific cause unless you have reason to believe that cause is the most effective. It's fine to have whatever personal priorities you have, but I don't think it's an appropriate discussion topic for the EA Forum.

but I don't think it's an appropriate discussion topic for the EA Forum.

This sentence is what moved this comment from neutral-to-disagree to strong-disagree to me. I think it's reasonable for folks to disagree about whether "most effective intervention within pre-specified constraints" is an EA-apt question. For various reasons, I strongly feel that we shouldn't censure folks that try to do that thing (within reason).

If you are going to do the "well actually even the best interventions in this class aren't effective enough to be counterfactually worthwhile" thing, I think it's critical to do that in a tactful and constructive way, which this isn't.

I disagree with partner!Will's implication that Michael's comment is unconstructive. I think it is very blunt, but that seems fine to me. I have not-settled opinions about the content of Michael's comment.

Yeah, I don't think it's super mean or anything. Hence why I didn't actually downvote Michael's comment, just disagreevoted.

Fair point. Is there a consensus within EA that EA should only be focused on what are the most effective causes in terms of increasing total utility, vs there being space to optimize effective impact within non-optimal causes?

My personal interests aside, it seems like there would be an case to address this, as many people outside the current EA movement are not particularly interested in maxing utils in the abstract, but rather guided by personal priorities -- so improving the efficacy of their donations within those priorities would have value. And there to my knowledge, there is a vacuum in analyzing the impact of charities outside of top EA cause areas. I would imagine that on net, it's a loss to allocate non-trivial resources to this away from higher impact cause areas... arguably asking people to share the information they currently have in low-effort ways would be positive on net, though I can see why one would want to promote conversational norms that discourage this.

Maybe I'll take this to LessWrong, where I'll hit many folks with the same knowledge base, but without violating the norms you put forth?

You're fine, in my opinion.  Your post title is eight words. If people don't want to engage with the question you asked, that decision consumed two seconds of their time.

While I understand  and respect why people don't want to devote resources to charity selection within causes they view as relatively low impact, I think it's possible to apply importance, tractability and/or neglectedness to some extent to donation opportunities within most cause areas. And I think it's good to get people thinking more about those criteria, even if they are not thinking about them in the context of an cause area EA views as high-impact.

I think you're fine, I don't think that only the most effective causes should be discussed or pursued is a EA consensus and I really hope we aren't looking to dissuade people who want to be the most effective within their own framework of priorities as a norm.

Hope you find an org that does great work!

yes, this drives me a little bit crazy about EA. by definition "effective altruism" should include any kind of altruism that someone is trying to do effectively. But what is actually practiced by the capital letters Effective Altruism movement is actually "altruistic rationality".

As Julia Galef mentions in this 2017 EAG panel, people have three buckets through which they spend their money: personal, personal causes (e.g. the university you went to or homelessness in the city you live), and EA causes (global make-the-world-better type things). Trying to guilt people to move money between buckets, e.g. "your $5 coffee in the morning is killing children in africa" is ineffective outreach. EA has got the third bucket covered, and I don't see why the second bucket shouldn't be included too. Getting people to think about philanthropy and volunteering more rationally in terms of effectiveness is generally good no matter what people's motivations are, and increasing people's rationality in the context of charity IMO will ultimately lead to more people naturally wanting to donate to the global EA cause bucket in the end.

I don't have an inside view on specific homeless charities in SF, but I do have an outside-view impression that the amount of money going in, contrasted with the results being achieved, implies that something is more-wrong-than-usual. That is, I think money is probably not just being spent inefficiently, but outright embezzled. It should be possible to identify individual charities to donate to doing good work, but EA's usual charity-oversight methodology is typically aimed at catching dumb ideas, not at catching outright fraud.

So my immediate question is whether your preference requires helping the homeless with short feedback loops verifying that said action was impactful. If not, you might want to read up on the case for the economic philosophy of Georgism on Astral Codex Ten if you've never heard of it. It wouldn't surprise me if the best EV case to made for the homeless in San Fransisco is to take a longer view and find LVT levers you can pull on, which would suggest donating to policy stuff or even research.

Though given the benefits of such donations probably wont ever reach the currently suffering homeless, this might not be a suggestion you're looking for. Either way, worth reading up on if you're unaware of it. I only recently (within the last year) became aware of Georgism. Am still learning, but looks very promising.

I recommend (and did a part-time internship with in the past) the Coalition on Homelessness. What really inspires me about them is that they did Prop C in 2018, where companies making over 50M per year in San Francisco were taxed a small percentage into a fund specifically for homeless exits. Before COVID, this fund was accruing 200-300M per year. The money was locked up for a few years from companies suing the city, but after the city finally won, it budgeted for 4000 homeless exits -- a 4X increase. This would have made a big dent (5000 people become homeless each year in San Francisco), but it turns out only 2000 of those exits were realized (that's still a 2X increase). Basically i think a big reason that not all the exits were able to be realized is because housing is so stupid expensive in San Francisco. So I think a combination of donating to the Coalition on Homelessness and California YIMBY (which seems the most effective at making regulations that encourage more housing) would be good.

In an ideal world, housing would be an essential good, not an investment vehicle, and cities should function properly where taxes from successful businesses who bring in high salary employees pay for everybody else in the city to still be OK in terms of infrastructure and social services.

Thank you!

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