Amazon’s donation of space on its campus for a permanent homeless family shelter is wonderful gift for many reasons.
LIKE Seattle’s other successful startups, Mary’s Place pursued an innovative new model.
The nonprofit began providing temporary shelter to homeless families in the dot-com era, in 1999, with angel funding from a Boeing employees’ charitable fund.
Mary’s Place creates temporary shelters for homeless families in unused buildings, increasing capacity at minimal cost. It also brings a mix of public services and volunteer support to its shelters, to get struggling parents back on their feet.
“It’s all about loving our neighbor,” said Marty Hartman, Mary’s Place executive director.
This smart, scrappy and nimble approach made Mary’s Place a breakout success, just like the local companies that have recently made it a focus of their engagement on the regional homeless crisis.
Amazon.com took this to a new level, literally, last week when it gave Mary’s Place half the space in one of its new buildings — rent-free, forever. The six-story, 47,000-square-foot space will have room for more than 200 people in 65 rooms.
Every week seems to bring a new story of business leaders doing great things to assist and accelerate the regional response to the homeless crisis and support those among us most needing help.
In boosting Mary’s Place, Amazon, Starbucks, Microsoft, Nordstrom and others are endorsing a response that emphasizes partnerships, collaboration, flexibility and focus on immediately addressing the needs of children and families in crisis.
They’re helping the agency provide up to 170,000 bed nights in 10 shelters this year. That’s up from 2,300 nights in 2010, when Mary’s Place ran one downtown shelter and another that rotated through places of worship.
Amazon’s latest gift is special for many reasons.
The value of the donated real-estate alone, a premium spot in its glittering downtown campus, is immeasurable. A spokesman said it will cost the company “tens of tens of millions of dollars.”
There is also value in having such diversity on Amazon’s campus.
A company obsessed with serving every customer will benefit from a constant reminder of the range of human experience. It should help employees maintain perspective as stock grants make them millionaires, while making a concrete statement about the company’s values and culture.
In Seattle’s current bubble of prosperity, it’s all too easy to forget that everyone’s not doing so well. Any one of us could have a streak of bad luck and need a helping hand someday.
To the children and families at Mary’s Place, Amazon is delivering a powerful message of acceptance and support: they are worthy of such a place, Amazon sees their potential and it wants to help them succeed.
In turn, Amazon and Seattle might be seen by these families as a place of opportunity, where they can build a better future that might someday exceed their wildest dreams.