Starbucks and other local companies are donating millions to shelter homeless families. Equally valuable is their backstage effort to help the region improve its response to homelessness.

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The intractable homeless problem in the Greater Seattle area needs all the help it can get.

Especially welcome is the generous support from Starbucks, other local companies and the personal foundations of business leaders.

A surge of financial contributions they announced this week is terrific and provides millions to house families at Mary’s Place shelters.

Just as valuable is the accompanying engagement of business leaders such as Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz.

Like everyone else living in the community, these leaders are shocked and saddened by the rise of homelessness and the lack of an effective response.

“The 500 families with small children who are sleeping outside in King County cannot wait for the promised reforms and housing that will take a year or more,” Schultz said in a release. “We need to treat this daily tragedy with the same urgency that would follow any natural disaster.”

Schultz and others are doing more than writing checks. They’re also working backstage on the problem, to help local governments and service providers improve the regional network of homeless services.

This engagement should give momentum to an overhaul that the city of Seattle, King County and others rolled out last summer.

On the advice of consultants who were shocked by inefficiencies and substandard tent shelters, they’re planning to improve data collection and agency coordination and shift spending to transitional programs that get people into actual housing.

In the meantime, to address immediate needs, the business coalition is channeling donations to the No Child Sleeps Outside campaign. It supports Mary’s Place, which operates six emergency night shelters for families, day centers and support services. One of its shelters is a former motel donated temporarily by

Donations announced this week include $1 million grants each from the Starbucks Foundation and the family foundation of Howard and Sheri Schultz.

Starbucks is also using stores in King County to gather donations from customers for the No Child Sleeps Outside campaign, and matching those donations with up to $1 million more.

Microsoft is donating $250,000 to Mary’s Place as part of $1 million it pledged to homelessness programs across King County.

Other supporters include Dick’s Drive-In, which started the campaign three years ago; Comcast, Alaska Airlines, Weyerhaeuser, Expedia, Nordstrom, Bank of America, Key Bank Foundation, Seattle Mariners, Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Seattle Association.

It’s painful that the prosperous hometown of such world-class, innovative companies has been unable to resolve its homeless crisis and help everyone living rough on its streets.

Throwing an ever larger pile of tax dollars at the problem has failed over and over again.

Let’s hope the combination of a fresh start by local governments, combined with hands-on philanthropists expecting a return on their civic investment, finally turns things around.