[Seneca Note: Seneca Group served as development manager of the Mary’s Place Family Center in the Regrade. The new shelter was provided by Amazon and included in the multi-tower Denny Regrade development block.]

Amazon has opened its homeless shelter on its downtown Seattle campus.

Mary’s Place Family Center in The Regrade opened to families in March, just as the Covid-19 virus struck the state, Amazon said in a statement. The company said the timing was key because the pandemic has impacted vulnerable populations disproportionately. Nearly one-third of family members staying at the facility are at high-risk for contracting the virus, according to Amazon.

The facility, now the largest family shelter in the state, takes up eight floors — 63,000 square feet in all — in an Amazon office building.

“This space ensures we don’t have to return families to homelessness during this unprecedented and trying time,” said Mary’s Place Executive Director Marty Hartman in a statement.

Amazon opened the shelter as it continues to be a poster child for the escalating costs of living in Seattle, which has a large population of highly paid tech workers as well as limited housing inventory. Socialist City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant renewed her “Tax Amazon” campaign this year, which called for a tax on the city’s largest businesses to pay for affordable, environmentally friendly housing. Amazon fiercely opposed the tax when it was first proposed in 2018.

In an illustration of Amazon’s political deftness in opening the shelter, Gov. Jay Inslee, King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan all praised the company’s efforts late last week.

“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,” Durkan said in a statement released by Amazon.

Mary’s Place operates seven family night shelters and a day center for single women experiencing homelessness. The nonprofit occupied another vacant space on Amazon’s campus from 2016 to 2018. The now-permanent shelter, at 7th Avenue and Blanchard Street, can accommodate up to 200 people a night. The program is designed to serve 1,000 people every year.

The Amazon shelter includes 30 rooms for families “managing the care of a medically fragile child,” according to the company. Four floors are devoted to sleeping space. There’s a commercial-grade kitchen that will be used to prepare approximately 600,000 meals each year, as well as a large dining room. The building also includes children’s play area, teen room and a rooftop deck with a garden and bike tracks.

A health clinic is onsite. There are also computer labs where residents can write resumes, apply for jobs and search for housing. More than 40 local service providers can operate out of six smaller rooms in the shelter.

Amazon stressed that the shelter has plenty of space for social distancing and that families occupy their own rooms. In addition, the company said it’s sanitizing the shelter regularly during the pandemic and providing residents and staff with PPE, as well as ear thermometers and medications.

An inside look at Amazon’s new shelter for families experiencing homelessness

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