SEATTLE—As a volunteer at a local food bank, Fairmont Olympic Hotel General Manager Markus Treppenhauer saw firsthand the current state of homelessness in the city and the precarious situation many people face as a result. He immediately wanted to help.
In Kings County, the statistics are staggering. According to the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness’ One Night Count—an annual count of the men, women and families who are homeless and on the street for one night—10,047 people are homeless from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m.; 2,993 are in transitional housing; 3,282 are in shelters; and 3,772 are on the street.
“I met with the manager at a food bank and learned homelessness is a big issue in Seattle. He chose not to judge the politics of homelessness, but instead, to focus on what he can do to help the people who have the problem,” Treppenhauer explained. “It’s moving to hear these stories because homelessness can hit anybody, and for the simplest reasons. It can be many tragic incidents.”
An encounter with another local nonprofit organization aimed at combatting homelessness would soon put the wheels of change in motion. Treppenhauer quickly realized how his hotel could help tackle this issue and provide support to those who need it most. Standing at the ready for families who must leave a home until they find another one is Mary’s Place. Led by Executive Director Marty Hartman, she and a team of caring individuals seek to empower and support homeless women, children and families by providing a safe place and the necessary resources to get back on firm ground.
“It was amazing. I don’t know how the timing worked out, but we were the beneficiaries at the Seattle Hotel Association’s annual fundraising dinner held at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel where all of Seattle’s hoteliers gathered for an evening of hope and to help homeless families,” Hartman said. “We initially connected with Markus Treppenhauer there. One of the first things he asked was, ‘Do you need any furniture?’ The timing was perfect. We were able to utilize the hotel dressers, lamps, mirrors and chairs he offered to provide the comforts of a home away from home at a building we were planning to expand.”
According to Treppenhauer, sustainability is a big issue for the hotel and they prefer not to throw away things others can use.
“Sometimes as hotels, we have a tendency to be wasteful. We talked about hotel practices of discarding toilet paper when it’s down to a third or the soap and shampoo bottles we provide. I said to Marty, ‘We can collect all the toilet paper and give it to you.’ We didn’t know they had an opportunity to double the size of Mary’s Place at another building,” Treppenhauer said. “We were renovating and had all of this furniture to donate. It was 15 years old, in immaculate shape and we didn’t want to throw it out. Marty was so grateful. We were able to reuse some of the nice furniture and help her do something that was beneficial. It was simple, but for her, very meaningful.”
There were many logistics to getting the project off the ground, including the coordination of teams to move the furniture and navigate the hotel’s subterranean passages.
“We were involved as a hotel, working with contractors who would remove the furniture anyway and that was the first phase. It’s a relatively complicated process as you have to go below ground, go through a tunnel to the parking garage and then from there, move it into trucks,” Treppenhauer said. “The contractors and volunteers rounded up the trucks and connected them with Marty. They came in one night late in the evening and moved an entire floor of furniture.”
According to Hartman, the initiative has resulted in the transformation of the lives of families hit hard by homelessness.
“Now, they don’t have to worry about the basic things as they deal with grief, pain, loss and barriers to obtaining housing, jobs and an education,” she said. “It was a miracle in motion and love in action. My eyes filled up with tears.”
This past spring, the nonprofit organization opened Mary’s Place Guest Rooms here in the downtown area. Amazon.com provided a former Travelodge hotel building, which was transformed into a shelter for 200 family members where they’ll live rent-free for one year.
“It’s exactly what we do, go into underutilized buildings and call them home for now—a safe haven for the homeless until it’s redeveloped,” Hartman said. “We couldn’t do it without partnerships with the business and faith communities. This hotel is a dream come true. It’s a place to seek refuge and rebuild lives.”
The missions of the Fairmont Olympic and Mary’s Place are deeply aligned as both make it a priority to offer comfort, security and dignity.
“The Fairmont staff made sure we had everything we needed and it was set up perfectly. They are exceptional in terms of customer service, and to them, we are all customers. It was phenomenal. They treated us like their own guests,” Hartman said.