Jeff Bezos, the billionaire founder of Inc., has pledged $2.5 million to Simpson Housing Services, a Minneapolis nonprofit that helps homeless individuals and families find stable housing.

Simpson said the grant is the largest in its 35-year history.

The donation will help the organization expand its family housing program over the next four years. The program uses intensive case management and advocacy to help struggling families secure and maintain permanent housing.

"This support ... will both increase our capacity to end homelessness for more families and deepen our impact with each family," said Steve Horsfield, Simpson's executive director.

The grant marks a milestone for Simpson Housing, which began in 1982 as an emergency overnight shelter in the basement of Simpson United Methodist Church in the Whittier neighborhood of south Minneapolis. For decades, the 66-bed shelter has been one of the few places in the Twin Cities where people could stay for more than just a night and then leave; many are allowed to stay weeks or even months, based on their needs.

Beyond the shelter, Simpson Housing is known for its expansive approach to combating homelessness. The nonprofit provides early childhood education and enrichment, as well as programs that connect families to employment and health care. Last year, it moved nearly 1,500 people into safe and stable housing and provided more than 1,100 men and women with shelter beds, the agency said.

In recent weeks, Simpson Housing has played a highly visible role at the large homeless encampment near the Little Earth housing project in south Minneapolis. The nonprofit has been working with other agencies to move approximately 100 people still living at the camp to a heated, temporary shelter nearby. Simpson is also operating the temporary shelter, known as a "navigation center," which consists of three large, heated tents on land owned by the Red Lake Nation.

"This is a wonderful thing and a true credit to Simpson," said Monica Nilsson, a longtime homeless advocate and former shelter director for Simpson Housing. "What makes them special is that they have a number of staff that have been there many years who really know the homeless community, and that builds trust."

Bezos recently announced that he was giving away $97.5 million to two dozen organizations that provide emergency and short-term shelter for families in need. The grants are from a $2 billion charitable fund, known as the Bezos Day One Fund, that Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie, launched in September. The fund focuses on the twin goals of helping homeless families and creating a network of nonprofit preschools in low-income communities.

Bezos is the world's wealthiest person, with a net worth that recently surpassed $150 billion, according to Bloomberg News. He is founder and chief executive of, as well as owner of the Washington Post and founder of an aerospace company, Blue Origin, which is developing space rockets.

Chris Serres • 612-673-4308 Twitter: @chrisserres