Amazon’s rapid expansion north of downtown Seattle has sparked a debate over the tech giant’s impact on the city that still rages on today. Despite criticism, CEO Jeff Bezos stands by the choice, citing the environmental benefits of shorter commutes and a workforce that appreciates “the energy and dynamism of an urban environment.”
But the influx of high-salaried tech workers to the region, driven in part by Amazon, has contributed to unprecedented economic stratification in Seattle, as reflected by a massive homeless problem.
Amazon now appears to be taking a more active role in addressing homelessness. The company is partnering with the non-profit Mary’s Place to create a temporary shelter for 60 to 70 homeless families, according to The Seattle Times. Amazon is converting one of its buildings into a temporary homeless refuge for the next year, at which point construction on the building will begin.
The 34,500-square-foot former Travelodge motel, at 2213 8th Avenue, was a dormitory for Cornish College of the Arts students before Amazon purchased the property for future expansion of its new corporate campus. Construction is scheduled to begin a year from now, making it a logical place to set up a temporary shelter. The dormitory-style accommodations include one bedroom, common and play areas for kids, one bathroom, and one kitchen per family.
Seattle’s homeless population is rising quickly. In January, the non-profit One Night Count revealed a record 4,505 people living without shelter in King County. Seattle-based Zillow, which conducts research on housing affordability, says the region’s tech boom is driving up rents and squeezing lower-income residents.
“The ramifications are dire for a region that was historically blue-collar and not prone to the same sky-high housing prices as other coastal hubs,” writes Zillow blogger Melissa Allison.
Amazon has been criticized for its lack of civic engagement in the city it’s so actively shaping. In a GeekWire poll, 45 percent of readers said that Amazon should work harder to be a better corporate citizen in Seattle.
Nick Hanauer, an early investor in Amazon told GeekWire, “I think that Amazon could be far more engaged in the civic community, and I think that the community would benefit massively from it.”
Now, roughly 200 homeless people living in Seattle will begin to reap those benefits.
“As we grow in Seattle, we recognize the importance of investing in our hometown in ways that benefit our neighbors and our employees,” Amazon Director of Global Real Estate and Facilities John Schoettler said in a blog post. “When Seattle Mayor Ed Murray declared a civil state of emergency on homelessness we wanted to help out in a time of great need.”
In addition to partnering with Mary’s Place on the shelter, Amazon.com has set up a dedicated page for the non-profit, including a Wish List with items people can donate to homeless families in need.
“Thank you Amazon.com for your amazing generosity,” writes Mary’s Place on Facebook. “Thanks to you, Mayor Ed Murray, and the City of Seattle, more than 200 moms, dads, and kids (and pets!) will be safe, warm and together at night!”