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While other tech giants fund housing initiatives, Amazon is opening a homeless shelter inside its HQ

As big tech gets bigger, industry leaders have begun making more noise about helping homeless populations, particularly in those regions where high salaries have driven up the cost of living to heights not seen before.Last January, for example, Facebook and Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, among other participants, formed a group called the Partnership for the Bays Future that said it was going to commit hundreds of millions of dollars to expand affordable housing and strengthen low-income tenant protections in the five main counties in and around San Francisco. Microsoft meanwhile made a similar pledge in January of last year, promising $500 million to increase housing options in Seattle where low- and middle-income workers are being priced out of Seattle and its surrounding suburbs.
Amazon has made similar pledges in the past, with CEO Jeff Bezos pledging $2 billion to combat homelessness and to fund a network of Montessori-inspired preschools in underserved communities, as he said in a statement posted on Twitter at the time, in September 2018.
Now, however, Amazon is taking an approach that immediately raises the bar for its rivals in tech: its opening up a space in its Seattle headquarters to a homeless shelter, one thats expected to become the largest family shelter in the state of Washington.
Business Insider reported the news earlier today, and it says the space will be able to accommodate 275 people each night and that it will offer individual, private rooms for families who are allowed to bring pets. It will also feature an industrial kitchen thats expected to produce 600,000 meals per year.
The space is scheduled to open in the first quarter of the new year, and is part of a partnership Amazon has enjoyed for years with a nonprofit called Marys Place that has been operating a shelter out of a Travelodge hotel on Amazons campus since 2016. The new space, which BI says will have enough beds and blankets for 400 families each year, isnt just owned by Amazon but the company has offered to pay for the nonprofits utilities, maintenance, and security for the next 10 years or as long as Marys Place needs it.
BI notes that the shelter will make a mere dent in Seattles homeless population, which includes 12,500 people in King County, where Seattle is located, but its still notable, not least because of the companys willingness to house the shelter in its own headquarters.
Its a move that no other tech company of which were aware has taken. The decision also underscores other cities equivocation over where their own, growing homeless populations should receive support. In just one memorable instance, after San Francisco Mayor London Breed last March floated an idea of turning a parking lot along the citys Embarcadero into a center that would provide health and housing services and stays for up to 200 of the citys 7,000-plus homeless residents, neighboring residents launched a campaign to squash the proposal. It was later passed anyway.
Vox noted in report about Microsofts $500 million pledge last year that many of these corporate efforts tend to elicit two types of reactions: admiration for the companies efforts or frustration over the publicity these initiatives receive. After all, its hard to forget that Amazon paid no federal tax in the U.S. in 2018 on more than $11 billion in profit before taxes. The company also threatened in 2018 to stop construction in Seattle if the city passed a tax on major businesses that would have raised money for affordable housing.
Whether Amazon one of the most valuable companies in the world, with a current $915 billion market cap is doing its fair share is certainly worthy of exploring in an ongoing way.
Still, a homeless shelter at the heart of the company is worth acknowledging and perhaps emulating too.
Its not one entity thats going to solve this, Marty Hartman, the executive director of Marys Place, tells BI. Its not on corporations. Its not on congregations. Its not on government. Its not on foundations. Its all of us working together.
Pictured above: A view of the new Marys Place Family Center from the street, courtesy of Amazon.
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