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Image: Amber Fouts

It isn’t hard to get Marty Hartman to talk, especially about the number of King County children forced to sleep outside last night. “There are 1,200,” she says quickly, as if the number is always on the tip of her tongue. 

She chips away at that tally through Mary’s Place, Seattle’s rapidly growing emergency shelter organization, whose staff asks parents bedding down in cars, “What would it take to move you into housing right now? Tonight?” Delivering the answers—a ride to work, a rental deposit—costs an average of just $1,900.

Ask the mother of four about life after work, and she’ll rave about eating dinner in shelters on her way home. Founded in 1999, Mary’s Place started as a day shelter to dish hot food and personal attention to homeless women; two decades of persistence later, a crew of 197 manages 680 beds across eight shelters that welcome dads, singles, even pets. Their brand-new facility opens in an Amazon building in 2020; Hartman birthed a force that binds Seattle’s booming industry with the families pushed to the fringes.

Almost every Mary’s Place staffer knows those borderlands, has lived below the poverty line. “They are the boots on the ground, they are the passion, they are the heartbeat of Mary’s Place,” she says. “It’s not me,” she insists. But it is obviously Hartman too, Hartman first.

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