Mary’s Place — a service provider that helps homeless women and families — announced that it had doubled its family shelter capacity in one fell swoop with the help of one very powerful friend: Amazon.
“We’re so excited about our new home in South Lake Union!” Mary’s Place announced on Facebook April 13.
The tech giant donated use of the former Travelodge near Denny Way to Mary’s Place for a year, adding 63 new family-style shelter spaces complete with en suite bathrooms. The first families will move in on April 18, although the facility is still under construction, said Linda Mitchell, spokesperson for Mary’s Place.
The deal was in the works for four months. Amazon reached out to Mayor Ed Murray after the mayor and King County Executive Dow Constantine declared a homelessness state of emergency in December 2015, the company wrote in a blog post.
“As we grow in Seattle, we recognize the importance of investing in our hometown in ways that benefit our neighbors and our employees,” the post reads.
Mary’s Place received $400,000 in emergency funds from the city of Seattle to operate the shelter, said Katherine Jolly, spokesperson for the Seattle Department of Human Services.
The building will eventually be demolished to make way for a new Amazon campus, but work on the space isn’t expected to start until spring 2017. In the meantime, Mary’s Place will operate the shelter at night during the week and 24 hours during weekends.
Although the donation provides a new opportunity for the nonprofit to house more families, it does come with challenges.
Within the year, Mary’s Place will have to find a new facility to replace the beds in the Amazon building. It will also have to staff up to deal with the new demands of 63 families. That means keeping four staff members at all times as well as a live-in manager, Mitchell said.
It’s what the organization expects every time it takes over a new building, Mitchell said.
“That’s our model,” she said. “That’s how Mary’s Place operates. We look for underused buildings and convert them into shelter. Then we stay as long as we’re able and move on.”
Amazon and Mary’s Place have a long-standing relationship. The company donated Kindles — its electronic reader — and computer stations for Christmas in 2015. It also set up a wish list for the nonprofit so that people all over the nation could find out what the women and families need and donate directly.
The move comes at a time when Amazon has become the poster child for gentrification in Seattle.
The company is best known for its online marketplace, but its other services — particularly webhosting — are far more influential. Seventy percent of global internet travels through Amazon Web Services servers located in North Virginia, according to estimates by the Loudon County economic development board.
That kind of pull means a near insatiable demand for top talent at top dollar in and around its “hometown.” The impact on downtown Seattle has been dramatic, and many blame the siren song of tech dollars for redevelopment that has overtaken local businesses and rising housing prices that’s pushed out low-income Seattleites.