Amazon Offers Free Shelter To Seattle's Homeless

Apr 15, 2016

Technology giant Amazon is allowing Mary's Place, a nonprofit dedicated to helping Seattle's growing homeless population, to use one of their unfinished facilities to house over 200 people over the course of the next year - rent free.

Amazon's building is located at the epicenter of its urban campus. In a blog post released on Thursday, the company said it recognizes its role in the progressive city.

"When Seattle Mayor Ed Murray declared a civil state of emergency on homelessness we wanted to help out in a time of great need," the statement read. "Over the last few months we have worked with Mayor Ed Murray's office and Mary's Place - a local Seattle nonprofit that provides housing and career services to homeless families, and one we've supported for a number of years - to determine if a building we recently bought could be utilized by Mary's Place as an emergency family shelter until the spring of 2017.

"Construction on the facility isn't scheduled until then, and we saw a unique opportunity to help hundreds of homeless women, children and families," Amazon added.

Utilities for the building will still be payed for.

Amazon's move has been welcome by municipal authorities, which declared a state of emergency - a motion normally reserved for natural disasters - in response to the overwhelming homeless rate in the city.

Critics have been quick to point out that Seattle's homelessness crisis can be attributed at least in part to the city's economic boom and subsequent housing shortage, largely due to tech companies including Amazon itself. Still, Amazon's involvement in the community it calls home has been lauded by some.

The building donation is an interesting piece of positive press for a company that's drawn negative attention for the working conditions in its warehouses and headquarters.

Amazon's move highlights how the tech juggernaut -- in the past criticized for the relative distance it maintained from local public affairs -- is taking on a more active role as it literally transforms the city's skyline.

A Good Neighbor

Amazon contacted Seattle authorities after Mary's Place began using a former bank building to shelter the city's homeless until it is converted into a new police precinct. John Schoettler, Amazon's director of global real estate and facilities, contacted Seattle Mayor Ed Murray to see if its unfinished property could be used for the same purpose.

"We had a building that's not being utilized and we had a crisis in our city," he said. "It's an opportunity for Amazon to be a good neighbor and do the right thing."

Amazon's unfinished property will offer shelter for between 60 and 70 families per night. Each family will have its own room with a bathroom. The building will also feature a kids' playroom, common rooms, and a kitchen. Those seeking shelter will be able to use the facility between 5PM and 8AM on the weekdays, but will be allowed to keep personal belongings in their room while they're away. The building will be open for 24 hours on the weekends.

In another gesture of good faith, company executives are already talking about offering another source of shelter once the building is finished.

It's hard to have a crystal ball," Schoettler added, "It's my goal that if everything works out well, they'll just move across the street."

Families will begin moving into the facility on Monday.

Amazon's decision is another shining example of the private sector tackling an issue without being strong-armed into doing so by the state. Perhaps their actions will help fight off the anti-corporate stigma progressive politicians seem to have against successful companies.

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