The timing couldn't have been better: Just as Seattle was grappling with a severe coronavirus outbreak that posed a particular threat to its homeless population, Amazon opened the largest family shelter in Washington state.
"This new shelter, opening when it did, has been our saving grace," Marty Hartman, executive director of the local nonprofit Mary's Place, which operates the shelter, said in a statement. "This space ensures we don't have to return families to homelessness during this unprecedented and trying time."
The plan was three years in the making. In May 2017, Amazon set aside eight floors in its Seattle headquarters for a shelter operated by Mary's Place. The shelter opened in March, around the time that a nursing-home outbreak turned Seattle into a coronavirus hotspot.
Seattle has since contained its outbreak and loosened lockdown measures, but Gov. Jay Inslee has said that social distancing must continue. The new shelter enables homeless residents abide by these rules.
Here's what it looks like.
Seattle saw a considerable rise in rents and home prices after Amazon built its campus there in 2010. From 2007 to 2017, the median rent in Seattle increased by nearly 42%, compared to 18% nationwide.
Seattle's homeless count has risen by 9% each year since 2014. There are currently about 12,500 homeless people in King County, where Seattle is located.
Homeless people are among the most vulnerable populations during a public-health crisis. Those who sleep outdoors lack access to sanitation facilities, making it difficult to wash their hands or practice other forms of basic hygiene that lower their risk of infection.
Mary's Place first opened as a day center for single homeless women two decades ago. The nonprofit now operates 11 shelters, including the one in Amazon's headquarters.
The organization is known for repurposing dilapidated buildings — including a former bank, sheriff's office, and restaurant — and turning them into temporary homeless housing.
That includes children with muscular dystrophy, babies waiting on cleft palate and ear reconstruction surgeries, and adults ages 60 and older.
"The opening of the new Mary's Place shelter came at a crucial moment, helping to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and saving lives," Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said in a statement.
The opening of the new Mary's Place shelter came at a crucial moment, helping to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and saving lives, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said in a statement.
Those floors offer space for 30 families.
"That child outside tonight that might be on a feeding tube, that's waiting for a kidney transplant, that just wants to graduate from high school or their mom wants to see take their first step — those are things that we can solve," Hartman previously told Business Insider. "It'll just take a minute. It's one season of their life."
That child outside tonight that might be on a feeding tube, that's waiting for a kidney transplant, that just wants to graduate from high school or their mom wants to see take their first step — those are things that we can solve, Hartman previously told Business Insider. It'll just take a minute. It's one season of their life.
The company donated 20 laptops to help facilitate this service virtually during the pandemic. Homeless shelter residents can receive advice on credit or debt issues, housing and tenant rights, or personal injury concerns.
The organization told CityLab that those expenses could amount to $2 million a year.
The original plan also called for Amazon employees to help chop vegetables, organize birthday celebrations, or throw dance parties, Hartman said in December.
These meals aren't just for occupants of the shelter on Amazon's campus. They will also be delivered to 10 other Mary's Place shelters in Seattle.
Each hour of activity is worth 1,500 points. Guests can use those points to purchase donated items, including food and clothing, at an indoor marketplace.
Amazon is permitting its corporate employees to work remotely until at least early October, though.
As a service to working parents who lost access to childcare during the pandemic, Mary's Place employees are babysitting children for extended hours.
Mary's Place said the fresh air is a welcome respite for guests who are isolating indoors.