Is Amazon’s Huge Homeless Shelter Enough?

by | Aug 13, 2020 | Formation, Homelessness, Reflections | 1 comment

The numbers are mind-boggling.

I reread them a couple of times to let them sink in!

In early 2020, the shelter, Mary’s Place Family Center, opened within an Amazon office building in the center of Amazon’s Seattle headquarters.

The shelter will be the largest family shelter in Washington State with over 63,000 square feet of usable space to sleep 275 moms, dads, and children every night. The new building will increase the organization’s shelter capacity in King County by 50 percent and will help shelter more than 400 additional families each year in the city of Seattle. The new Family Center is part of Amazon’s $100 million commitment to Mary’s Place, including annual rent and utilities, over the next 10 years.

Stretched over eight floors, the shelter includes four floors designated for sleep, which is paramount to guests making a transformation in their lives. In addition to standard shelter space, the shelter also includes Diversion program sleep spaces, for families who need light assistance to quickly move into housing, and also 30 Popsicle Place rooms, for families with medically fragile children. In fact, this new shelter will triple the Popsicle Place capacity. On the additional four floors, more unique shelter features include: an industrial kitchen, a children’s play area, and space for professional services such as pro bono legal support from Amazon’s legal team.

Mary’s Place had been successfully piloting a national best practice to help more families move directly from unsheltered homelessness to housing. This approach works with families to identify their strengths and needs, coupled with a small amount of flexible funding (on average, just $1,900) to address barriers to housing quickly, within 30 days.

What is there to criticize?

The website Invisible People recently took note of this. Homeless Shelter on Amazon’s Campus Aims to Help Families, But Is It Enough?

After doing a fine job of presenting the project InvisiblePeople raised some thought-provoking questions. As large and ambitious as Amazon’s contribution is, it does little to address the housing crisis it helped create.

Big tech has always had a challenging relationship with homelessness. With Mary’s Place, Amazon is trying to take control of the narrative while also becoming a meaningful contributor to Seattle’s homelessness problem. While some applaud the pricey effort, others are skeptical of the endeavor.

They write “Part of the criticism stems, not just from a perceived lack of giving, but also indirectly increasing homelessness numbers. Dubbed “the Amazon effect,” the company’s meteoric rise has been matched only by Seattle’s skyrocketing housing costs. The average price of a new single-family home in the city rose by some 84 percent between 2010 and 2017. That’s nearly twice the national increase over the same time period.”

Sara Rankin, founder of the Homeless Rights Advocacy Project adds…

“Mary’s Place is a safe investment for Amazon because the nonprofit caters to the most sympathetic kind of homeless, [families].” Who doesn’t want to support families? But the endeavor does little to address the root problem of the city’s homelessness. It largely ignores the chronically homeless that often suffer from mental health or addiction issues. These also happen to be the most expensive to house and treat.

Rankin suggests that Seattle-based tech companies “could virtually eliminate Seattle’s tent cities if they helped fund more permanent affordable housing with social services managers to support those struggling the most.”

The Vincentian Both/And

To me, this sounds like a classic situation the calls for a Vincentian response. The Vincentian Both/And … address BOTH immediate needs and seek long-term solutions.

1 Comment

  1. Tom

    A helpful analysis.