Amazon is opening up a homeless transitional shelter inside one of its new Seattle HQ buildings that will give 65 families a place to stay before finding permanent housing.
The new 47,000 square-foot shelter, run by Mary’s Place and opening in early 2020, will house more than 200 people each night. It will take up about half of an 8-story building being built on a block where Amazon is also constructing a 23-story office building. Currently, the Amazon-owned block houses a former Travelodge motel that the company turned into a temporary shelter facility for Mary’s Place last year.
It’s a notable donation from Amazon, and the latest example of Amazon increasing its corporate giving in its hometown, where it is growing rapidly in the South Lake Union neighborhood and the northern edge of downtown Seattle.
In years past, the company was criticized for its lack of involvement in philanthropic and charitable activities and organizations in the Seattle region. But this marks another recent donation from Amazon, which gave $10 million to the University of Washington this past October for a new computer science building. It also in February donated more than 25,000 square feet of retail space and equipment to launch a foodservice apprenticeship program through non-profit FareStart.
As it expands its urban HQ and hires more tech workers, Amazon has been called out for its impact on housing affordability and economic stratification in Seattle. That makes the company’s decision to build the shelter within its own headquarters “an unusual arrangement,” as The New York Times described it. The Times reported that Amazon will pay for the utilities and rent; Mary’s Place will pay its own staff as it does at the temporary space now.
“Mary’s Place does incredible, life-saving work every day for women, children, and families experiencing homelessness in the Seattle community,” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said in a statement. “We are lucky to count them as neighbors and thrilled to offer them a permanent home within our downtown Seattle headquarters – Amazon employees and Mary’s Place residents will move in together in early 2020.”
Amazon posted a video with Mary’s Place Executive Director Marty Hartman, who called moving in with the company “a dream come true.”
Amazon also posted the announcement on its news site.
“Amazon employees are frequent visitors and volunteers at the existing shelter – bringing meals, organizing arts and crafts projects, throwing parties for the families, and more,” the company said. “By sharing permanent space with Mary’s Place, Amazon employees will now have even more opportunities to volunteer and support the organization and the families they serve.”
Amazon said it will help Mary’s Place move into another former hotel as it knocks down the old Travelodge and builds the new 23-story building and Mary’s Place shelter.
Seattle’s homeless population has been rising. Last year, non-profit One Night Count revealed a record 4,505 people living without shelter in King County. The “No Child Sleeps Outside” campaign cited a 20 percent increase in the homeless count last year in the city.
Mary’s Place, which has similar shelters in in North Seattle and White Center, raised $4.5 million in January from companies like Starbucks, Microsoft, and others, including Amazon.
Amazon’s rapid expansion in its hometown, meanwhile, comes amid unprecedented of growth for the company worldwide. Amazon last week reported that it has surpassed 350,000 employees globally, up 43 percent from last year, not including temporary or seasonal staff. The company employs 40,000 people in Washington state, including about 25,000 people at its Seattle headquarters.
Amazon’s second campus in Seattle’s Denny Triangle neighborhood is taking shape, with the Doppler building opening in late 2015 and the recently-opened Day One tower that sits across the street from where the new 23-story building with Mary’s Place will be built. There are also the nearby “Spheres,” which will open early next year.
The new buildings are connected to Amazon’s already even more expansive campus in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood.
By 2022, Amazon says it could occupy 12 million square feet across 40 buildings in Seattle, up from 8.5 million square feet as of the middle of last year.