In what is called Amazon’s biggest philanthropic gesture yet, the tech giant is building a homeless shelter at its Seattle headquarters.
Amazon has helped house homeless families since last year, when it temporarily donated a vacant hotel on its urban campus to Mary’s Place, a nonprofit shelter for women and families in need.
The former Travelodge will be torn down later this year to make way for two new Amazon buildings. But the shelter’s families won’t be left out in the cold.
Amazon will devote half of one of the new buildings to Mary’s Place, creating a six-story, 47,000-square-foot shelter big enough to house more than 200 homeless women, children and families in 65 rooms each night, according to the Seattle Times.
“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.”
Thanks to Amazon, Mary’s Place won’t ever have to pay rent or utilities.
“We finally got the keys to our own place,” Marty Hartman, executive director of Mary’s Place, told reporters on Wednesday.
A video Amazon posted to YouTube shows the moment last Thursday when John Schoettler, Amazon’s head of real estate, surprised Hartman with the news.
He handed her a brown Amazon shipping box. Inside was an oversized golden key and a letter about the new shelter that she read through tears.
Schoettler told reporters the arrangement is “permanent, until homelessness is solved.”
In 2015, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray declared a state of emergency on homelessness, a situation, the Times points out, some believe has been aggravated by the city’s quick growth spurred in large part by Amazon itself.
According to the Times, Schoettler and his team had talked for the last year about creating a permanent space for Mary’s Place on the Amazon campus. Amazon employees have had a lot of interaction with the families at the shelter over the last year, taking them meals, throwing parties for the families and leading arts and crafts projects.
When Schoettler shared the idea with the company’s senior management in January, he told the Times, Bezos “loved the fact that it was unique, and that it was inclusive, within our campus, and thought that was very unusual and would allow us to do something different.”
The new buildings and shelter will open in early 2020.