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When Amazon donated an empty South Lake Union hotel for use as a homeless shelter, it was investing in a model that Mary’s Place, the service provider, has perfected: turning vacant or transitioning buildings into temporary shelter.
Amazon owns the onetime Travelodge for the property, not the building; it plans to redevelop the space in the next year. For now, the structure is a kind of road trip hotel, squatting beneath new development. Perhaps in the time of the World’s Fair it fit in, but in contrast to the glass-clad buildings surrounding it, its welcome has worn thin. There are other, similarly dated hotels in the neighborhood, all of which also seem destined for a wrecking ball.
But since the commerce giant has donated the building, it’s become more vibrant than it’s ever been. On a Wednesday evening, children of all ages run the length of the building, bouncing basketballs, playing chase. Mothers, children, and pets spill from their rooms and into the hallways. There’s great diversity among its occupants, far more so than Seattle at large. For dinner, they all eat beef stew in the building’s common room.
The Mary’s Place approach is unique in the Seattle area — one that, considering the cutthroat real estate competition facing affordable housing and homeless shelters, floats the service provider with the current of the construction boom, not against. […]