Two years ago, Marty Hartman, the executive director of Mary’s Place homeless shelter in Seattle, received a package from Amazon: The company presented her with a golden key symbolizing access to eight floors of a building in its Seattle headquarters.
At the time, Mary’s Place had been operating a homeless shelters out of a Travelodge hotel on Amazon’s campus. Amazon had always planned to renovate the hotel for its own use. In 2017, the company offered Hartman a permanent space in one of Amazon’s corporate offices. Now that space is almost finished.
When the new shelter opens in 2020, it will have the capacity to serve 275 people each night. That’s a small portion of the city’s 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.
Amazon has had a complicated relationship with the city of Seattle since building its campus, which is now 10 million square feet, there in 2010.
After Amazon’s headquarters was constructed, Seattle saw a considerable rise in rents and home prices. From 2007 to 2017, the median rent in Seattle increased by nearly 42% compared to just 18% nationwide.
As properties became more expensive, some of Seattle’s low-income residents found they couldn’t afford to live there. Homelessness in Seattle has risen by 9% each year since 2014. Some residents and experts attribute this rise to Amazon’s presence in the city.
Homeless occupants will share the new building with Amazon employees. The company has offered to pay for the space’s utilities, maintenance, and security for the next 10 years. It’s also covering the rent.
“Maybe someday, if homelessness in Seattle is resolved, we can turn that back into space for ourselves,” John Schoettler, an Amazon real-estate executive, told the Seattle Times. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s theirs as long as they need it.”
The nonprofit says it will keep room available for 75 additional people during weather emergencies.
“Every single one of them will feel loved, safe, and invited in,” Hartman said in a video about the project. “It’s a place where their kids will be able to be kids, and their parents can work on the tough stuff.”
The new shelter resembles a motel. Families are given individual, private rooms.
“Individual rooms are an incredible gift to families to maintain their individual dignity,” Hartman told the Seattle Times. The rooms also allow families to bring their pets.
The space comes with “hygiene areas” where occupants can take baths.
This is the first Mary’s Place shelter that comes with bathtubs (the others just have showers).
Two floors of the shelter will be reserved for families of children with life-threatening illnesses.
There are 30 rooms in total for these families. The shelter will also have health and legal clinics available during the day. Amazon has offered to provide pro bono legal counseling.
An industrial kitchen will produce 600,000 meals a year.
These meals aren’t just for occupants of the shelter on Amazon’s campus; many will be delivered to 10 additional Mary’s Place shelters throughout Seattle.
The nonprofit is known for repurposing dilapidated buildings and turning them into temporary homeless housing. It operates shelters in a former bank building, a former sheriff’s office, and a former restaurant.
Mary’s Place will be responsible for funding its own operations, programming, and staff in the space. The organization told CityLab that those expenses could amount to $2 million a year.
In addition to Amazon donations, the nonprofit is funded by government grants, which are paid for by taxes.
Last year, Amazon was instrumental in repealing Seattle’s “head tax,” which taxed employees of companies earning more than $20 million a year. Money from that tax would have gone directly to housing and homeless services.