Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO, speaks at The Economic Club of Washington's Milestone Celebration in Washington.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO, speaks at The Economic Club of Washington’s Milestone Celebration in Washington.

Cliff Owen/AP

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has given $5 million to JOIN, a Portland nonprofit that helps homeless families. JOIN says it’s their largest gift from an individual donor.

The grant is for direct aid to families living in cars, on the street, or in motels and emergency shelters. It covers services for the next four years.

“The timing was perfect, because we just added outreach workers specifically to serve families and find folks who are in cars or in tents on the street,” said Shannon Singleton, JOIN’s executive director.

The grant is among $97.5 million in donations Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos announced Tuesday to 24 U.S. nonprofits working on family homelessness.

Singleton says Bezos invited JOIN to submit a grant application several weeks ago.

JOIN works closely with a group of nonprofits in Portland that coordinate outreach, emergency shelter, rental assistance and other services for homeless families in Multnomah County.

As of October, approximately 1,000 families had placed their names on the county’s referral list for services.

Singleton says the grant from Bezos will help those families with rent and other urgent expenses like moving costs and child care.

It will mean a $1.25 million annual boost to what has been a $3 million budget for those services in Multnomah County.

“We have folks out there who are meeting families, we just may not have enough rent assistance to support them moving back into housing,” Singleton said.

Singleton says JOIN also aims to use some of the funding to help homeless parents find better job opportunities, by paying for training, internships, or apprenticeships and partnering with local businesses to find jobs with wages that will cover rent.

Bezos is by some counts the richest man in the world.  He’s recently pledged to spend $2 billion on programs for homeless families and on an initiative to launch new Montessori-based preschools.

Critics say he’s pledged far less of his fortune to philanthropy than his peers.

Singleton said from her perspective, any opportunity to engage in a conversation with Bezos about the need for funding and policies that create affordable housing is a positive step.

“I think for us it was, ‘Yes, we can serve folks right now,’” Singleton said. “I think this can be a springboard to something larger.”