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Seattle shelter gets big boost from Amazon

Mary's Place has become a blessing for many families rebounding from homelessness. (Colleen O'Brien/KIRO Radio)
LISTEN: Seattle shelter gets big boost from Amazon

A Seattle shelter for families seems to have found an angel investor in Amazon.

Not only did Amazon let Mary’s Place borrow an old Travelodge motel for shelter space, but Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos also recently donated $1 million, because he thinks Mary’s Place is doing good things.

Mary’s Place, which may look like a motel, is so much more. Knowing that approximately 1,100 families are sleeping in their vehicles or on the streets in the area every night, Executive Director Marty Hartman’s enthusiasm for the shelter is unmatched.

“When the opportunity for this hotel came up, they reached out and asked us if that would be something we’d want or if they could help with that and we were like, ‘Absolutely. Right?’ and then the money,” she exclaimed.

During the recent Give Big day, Mary’s Place netted more than $2 million. Half of that came from online donations. The other half was matched by the Amazon CEO, who emailed Marty.

“It said ‘Jeff Bezos’ and I’m like, ‘hmmm,'” she said. “It’s just like I have no idea. So I opened it up and I was just amazed and overwhelmed and did a happy dance.”

Mary’s Place includes a kids’ center full of toys, a storage room stocked with Amazon wish list donations, and a community center. Each shelter guest works at the shelter a minimum of three hours a week, earning points that allow them to purchase items from the shelter’s store. Amazon employees did all the painting and repairs on the building, as well as filling the storage room.

Tangela Connor and her family are thankful for the opportunity to stay.

“We were living at a family member’s home at Madison Park and that didn’t really work out,” she explained. She soon came to the realization she and her husband and three children were homeless.

“I almost think that it was something that was supposed to happen,” Connor explained. “There’s something about Mary’s Place. It’s not just me being homeless and needing a place to stay, there is something bigger. Maybe I know my gift now, maybe I know what I’m supposed to do now. I don’t know.”

Mary’s Place is different, too, because most shelters don’t allow men, women, and children under one roof. With a background check, men are welcomed and families can stay intact. That was very important to Tangela’s husband, Abraham. His oldest son has muscular dystrophy.

“He walks, but he cannot walk to far,” Abraham explains. “If he walks a couple blocks he gets tired.”

These are strong families living at this shelter. And the thing is they don’t necessarily want to be here, but they are, if only for a moment.

Juanita Duncan has seven children. She is, as she describes, “super busy.” She says one of the best things about staying at Mary’s place – is nobody judges her.

“I find it really liberating,” she said. Some people look at her thinking she has issues, she explained. “I look at it as there’s not just me in this boat, there’s everybody else in this boat, so I don’t feel out of place.”

Like Juanita, everyone at Mary’s Place is working or looking for work. They are also looking for permanent housing.

Juanita starts college classes in June and wants to be a nurse. For the moment, however, she’ll call Mary’s place home. And it’s likely the only time the families you met today will. According to the Marty, 97 percent of homeless families are only homeless once.

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