July 19

Meet the Neighbors

Amazon invites Mary’s Place, a homeless shelter for women, children, and families in need, into one of its brand-new campus buildings.

Among the many new buildings that make up Amazon’s South Lake Union campus, there are coffee shops and cool roof decks, dog-friendly open offices and, soon, big glass-globe atriums. But starting in 2020, there will be another notable facility within Amazon: a homeless shelter.

In May, the tech giant announced a gift of a 47,000-square-foot permanent space for Mary’s Place, a Seattle shelter that usually hops between temporary vacant hotels and surplus buildings. The unprecedented move will put one of Seattle’s buzziest industries next door to the city’s struggling citizens.

“It’s a miracle. It’s exciting,” said Mary’s Place founder and executive director Marty Hartman shortly after the announcement was made. She and her team are used to inhabiting a building for a year or two, between owners or before it’s torn down. They still manage to do 100,000 bed nights in a year—that’s 100,000 times a Seattle woman, father, or child got a secure place to sleep when they had no other option.

Amazon had already donated the temporary use of a South Lake Union former Travelodge and Days Inn; that was exciting enough. But the coming permanent Mary’s Place at 8th and Blanchard will be six floors of dedicated space, including 65 rooms that hold more than 200 people, plus community rooms, kid and teen spaces, and kitchens. Unlike most Mary’s Place shelters, it’ll welcome pets—just like those pooch-filled Amazon offices.

The 2020 shelter will join FareStart eateries opening now; Amazon also donated campus space to the organization dedicated to employing locals facing homelessness or poverty. The five FareStart Amazon restaurants will nearly double the organization’s reach, and the food joints will be open to the public.

Mary’s Place dates back to 1999, when Hartman formed the organization within the Church of Mary Magdalene. Since then, it’s grown to multiple night shelters, day centers, and volunteer networks. She’s hired dozens of staffers—many formally homeless—and runs programs from simple childcare to resume-writing to financial skill workshops.

“Everyone wants the same thing in our community,” says Hartman. “Everyone wants to be respected and feel like they have a purpose and they belong.”

But in a city with rapid growth, many are still left out in the cold. A real estate services report from June noted that Seattle housing prices had skyrocketed, with a 37 percent increase since 2011—a period where non-tech wages went up only eight percent.

Hartman’s hard goal is to leave no child sleeping outside in Seattle, a goal she thinks is attainable in the next three years. “It’s doable,” she insists. “It’s a finite number of families.”

Though Mary’s Place takes donations year-round, this fall they aim to outfit 300 children with back-to-school supplies. They released a list of needs, which range from protractors to pink erasers and good old-fashioned Elmer’s glue.

“I think an incredible beautiful relationship,” said Hartman of their now-long term partnership with Amazon. She notes that the tech giant even developed a web portal to facilitate employee volunteerism at Mary’s Place; the proximity, she says, will only help the stream of Amazonians who pop by to lead workshops or play with kids. The ethos, she says, is “Just bring what you have, share what you can. Be our friend, be our neighbor.”

To see how you can help Mary’s Place, visit the Share Your Stuff section of marysplaceseattle.org.

Story by Allison Williams and Photographs by Ben VanHouten, Amazon, and Josh Trujillo.

At The Center

SLU is the geographical center of Seattle