The COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting lives across the world, but families fighting homelessness are at particularly high risk with no safe space to call home. While I’ve long been excited for the new Mary’s Place Family Center in The Regrade in the heart of Amazon’s Seattle campus to open, I never could have imagined the shelter would open at such a critical time—at the start of a global pandemic.

From 2016-2018, Mary’s Place occupied vacant building space on our Seattle campus. Thinking big alongside Mary’s Place, we announced in 2017 we would collaborate to break ground on a permanent shelter within our corporate headquarters.

After years of brainstorming, planning, designing, building, and decorating, in early March 2020, Mary’s Place opened the Mary’s Place Family Center in The Regrade and the timing was immediately life-saving for families experiencing homelessness. The unique, thoughtful design, which includes private rooms for families, enables Mary’s Place to provide safe, dignified, and socially-distanced accommodation, and the shelter’s durability enables extensive deep cleaning practices. The facility has tripled the size of the Mary’s Place Popsicle Place program, which provides shelter and support for families experiencing homelessness with medically-fragile children, and is also safely supporting Babies Best Start, a Mary's Place program for expecting and new moms and their babies.

I regularly check in with my close friend and Mary's Place Executive Director Marty Hartman and now is no different, as we all work to stay connected to those we love in these trying times. She doesn't think the timing of this new shelter is coincidental.

"At Mary’s Place Family Center in The Regrade, our kids are able to safely finish school, our employees watch children for extended hours to support parents who lost access to childcare, and moms and dads are able to search for new jobs on new laptops," said Marty Hartman, Mary's Place Executive Director. "This new shelter, opening when it did, has been our saving grace. It was our Amazon family, that recognized what we needed before we ever realized it, and this space ensures we don’t have to return families to homelessness during this unprecedented and trying time. I always knew this shelter would be a beacon of light in the community, and the critical support we’ve received from our neighbors at Amazon and beyond has been life-saving ever since this pandemic began."

Located in the heart of Seattle’s Regrade neighborhood, 7th Ave and Blanchard St, the shelter is in close proximity to community services, mass transit, healthcare, and hospital systems. As we’ve seen over the past few months, vulnerable communities—such as the elderly, low-income families, and families with members with certain pre-existing conditions—have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak. In addition to new families seeking shelter, Mary’s Place has moved some of their most vulnerable families out of other congregate shelters and into the family center in The Regrade, including children with muscular dystrophy, babies waiting on cleft palate and ear reconstruction surgeries, older adults aged 60+, and many other families with high-risk individuals. Nearly one-third of families staying at Mary's Place have family members who are at high-risk for contracting the virus.

Amid COVID-19, the setup and design of the Mary’s Place Family Center in The Regrade has served as inspiration for future Mary’s Place shelters. Unique features of the shelter include:

  • Private entrances and acoustical isolation from Amazon’s offices
  • Space to accommodate up to 200 family members each night and 1,000 family members each year
  • Facilities across eight floors with four sleeping floors, including a Diversion floor with flexible sleep spaces for families with an identified 30-day housing solution
  • Two Popsicle Place floors with 30 rooms for families managing the care of a medically fragile child
  • An industrial kitchen with commercial cooking equipment that will serve as the central cooking and sorting center for the entire Mary’s Place organization. The kitchen will be used to produce approximately 600,000 meals per year and the spacious dining room design has been key for guests to maintain social distance
  • Several recreation spaces including a children’s play area, teen room, and a rooftop deck with a garden and bike tracks, immediately helpful for fresh air breaks while following "Stay Safe—Stay Home" orders
  • A health clinic, offices, and computer labs with space for resume reviews and online housing searches
  • Six smaller rooms for more than 40 local service providers to provide virtual support, and in-person support when it’s safe—while all students are learning from home. The Wi-Fi and computers in these rooms have been important for Mary's Place children of all ages to continue with their studies
  • Dedicated space for Amazon to provide monthly pro-bono legal clinics offering counsel on credit and debt issues, personal injury, housing and tenant rights, and more. Since 2018, Amazon's legal team has supported hundreds of Mary’s Place guests and volunteered more than a thousand pro-bono hours. To better support families right now, Amazon has also donated 20 laptops to ramp up virtual support
  • Additional Amazon donations including safety glasses and face protectors, ear thermometers, individual boxes of tissues and gloves, and a second hand-washing station

As Marty often says, this shelter will be "home for now" for Mary's Place families. And now, more than ever, we are thrilled we could provide this safe space when "home" is truly the safest space to be.

I look forward to the day when I can safely stop by to volunteer. For now, I appreciate everyone at Amazon and our extended Seattle community who have stepped up tremendously to make sure Mary's Place and their families know they are not alone during these trying times.