Every day, Marty Hartman makes a list, a tally of who in Seattle needs a place to sleep that night. Of where they’ll crash if they can’t access temporary lodging, of how old the kids are. They’re the families she must turn away from Mary’s Place, the day and night shelter she launched 18 years ago for Seattle’s homeless. Come 2020, she’ll send some to the Amazon campus.
Last year Hartman and her team filled 100,000 bed-nights in churches, an old bank building, and a defunct Travelodge in South Lake Union. “We go into underutilized buildings and call them home for now. We’re used to a year or 18 months,” says Hartman. But in May, Amazon announced a donation of six floors of their glassy office tower being built in SLU, at Eighth and Blanchard. And the lease never runs out.
The retail giant has supported the charity before—it lent that short-term motel—but this 200-bed facility will be the first designed especially for Mary’s Place, with all the fridges (for milk) and storage (for diapers) they desire. This being Amazon, it’ll welcome pets, the only Mary’s Place shelter that can do so.
Until then Hartman’s daily list remains.
A lot has skyrocketed in recent years, from the number of Amazon employees (18 percent growth in Washington just last year, according to GeekWire) to Seattle’s median rent (up 43 percent since 2010, according to Zillow). Fair or not, Seattleites blame Amazon for those rising rents. And rising, too, are the number of unsheltered: Housing Development Consortium estimates almost 3,000 people are unsheltered in Seattle every night, and 2016’s One Night Count tallied a 19 percent increase over 2015. Five years ago, The Seattle Times called Amazon “a virtual no-show in hometown philanthropy,” accusing the retail giant of falling behind the likes of Microsoft and Boeing for local giving. Flash forward to today, with Amazon donating not only a multimillion-dollar space—plus utilities—but also funneling employee volunteers to the shelter to tutor residents, edit their resumes, or simply entertain the kids.
That’s what’s so notable about the donation; not the new building, but that it shares walls with Amazon offices. Hartman says it’s unprecedented for a U.S. company: “It’s neighbor to neighbor. It makes our families feel like they’re not forgotten.” Her goal of a child-free nightly list is, she thinks, just three years away: “This model is for a nation: the lengths you can go to love your neighbor and bring them inside.”