- Amazon is building a homeless shelter on its Seattle campus.
- The shelter will be run by Mary’s Place, a nonprofit that has worked with the company for years.
- The nonprofit’s executive director, Marty Hartman, said “it’s not on corporations” to solve Seattle’s homelessness problem.
- She thinks Mary’s Place is already on a path to ensure that no child in the county sleeps outside.
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It wasn’t the news that Marty Hartman expected: In the spring of 2017, Amazon offered her a space in its Seattle headquarters to open a homeless shelter.
Her organisation, Mary’s Place, is a nonprofit that provides shelter for homeless residents in Seattle. It had been operating a shelter out of a Travelodge hotel on Amazon’s campus since 2016. The stay was supposed to be temporary, since Amazon planned to renovate the building for its own use.
“I was fully expecting that we would close and move on and just be grateful for the opportunity,” Hartman told Business Insider. “We just really wanted to make sure that we were good neighbours and we got out on time. We had no idea that they had even been thinking about building us a permanent home.”
Hartman expects to move into the new space sometime in the first quarter of 2020.
When the shelter opens, it will have the capacity to serve 275 people each night. That’s a small portion of the local homeless population – about 12,500 people in King County, where Seattle is located – but it’s expected to be the largest family shelter in Washington state.
The shelter will offer individual, private rooms for families, who are allowed to bring pets. In “hygiene areas,” occupants can take baths (many shelters only have showers), and an industrial kitchen is expected to produce 600,000 meals per year.
The space is located across the street from the Amazon Spheres – prominent glass domes that double as an employee workspace and greenhouse.
“It will be about a 46% increase in the number of shelter beds that we currently have,” Hartman said.
Hartman doesn’t blame Amazon for Seattle’s homelessness crisis
Mary’s Place first opened as a day centre for single homeless women two decades ago.
“We were always open to seeing children, but we rarely saw any,” Hartman said. “But in 2009 families started coming to us at a rapid rate and it broke our hearts.”
The following year, the organisation opened its first night shelter for women and children.
Seattle saw a considerable rise in rents and home prices after Amazon built its campus there in 2010. From 2007 to 2017, the median rent in Seattle increased by nearly 42%, compared to 18% nationwide. Homelessness in Seattle has also risen by 9% each year since 2014.
While some residents attribute this escalating homelessness crisis to Amazon’s presence in Seattle, Hartman blames a lack of affordable housing.
“It’s not one entity that’s going to solve this,” she said. “It’s not on corporations. It’s not on congregations. It’s not on government. It’s not on foundations. It’s all of us working together.”
Amazon will pay the rent on the new space
Mary’s Place now operates 10 shelters (not including the Amazon space). The nonprofit is known for repurposing dilapidated buildings – including a former bank, sheriff’s office, and restaurant – and turning them into temporary homeless housing. One of its centres, located in a former hospital, is reserved for homeless families with critically ill children.
The Amazon shelter will be its largest space yet, with enough beds and blankets for around 400 families each year. The shelter will also have room for 75 additional people during weather emergencies. Two floors (30 rooms in total) will be reserved for families of children with life-threatening illnesses.
“I think it takes all the best of Mary’s Place and puts it in one location,” Hartman said.
Amazon has offered to pay for the space’s utilities, maintenance, and security for the next 10 years – or as long as Mary’s Place needs it. It’s also covering the rent.
Mary’s Place will be responsible for funding its own operations, programming, and staff in the space. The organisation told CityLab that those expenses could amount to $US2 million a year.
Hartman said one of the biggest advantages of the new shelter is that it’s centrally located in Seattle. That places it within the epicentre of the city’s homelessness crisis, but it also makes it easier for people to volunteer.
“I see this shelter as a community centre where you won’t know who are guests and who are volunteers,” she said.
Amazon employees can volunteer at the shelter
The seventh floor of the building has space set aside for Amazon employees to teach coding classes, read to children, or provide resume help or mock job interviews for adults. Hartman said Amazon employees are welcome to come chop vegetables, rock babies, organise birthday celebrations, or throw dance parties.
“We want everybody to come in and use their skills, but mostly to be in relationship,” she said.
The organisation’s mission now, she said, is to make sure no child in the county sleeps on the street.
“That child outside tonight that might be on a feeding tube, that’s waiting for a kidney transplant, that just wants to graduate from high school or their mum wants to see take their first step – those are things that we can solve,” she said. “We can bring them in and they will move to housing. It will just take a minute. It’s one season of their life.”
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