As Marty Hartman reflects on her 24 years guiding the growth of Mary’s Place from its birth in 1999 as a drop-in center for homeless women in downtown Seattle to a $30 million non-profit that aims to guide families out of homelessness, she makes in clear “we’re about the children.”
“No child should be left to sleep outside,” Hartman repeats in an interview as she shares her thoughts on her years of guiding the organization from which she is retiring as executive director on December 1.
It was as an at-home mom of four kids, 7, twins 9 and 11, that she was hired by an organization started as the Church of Mary Magdalene to open a day center in downtown Seattle called Mary’s Place to provide service to women experiencing homelessness. She had a degree in residential therapy and had been active in providing various kinds of therapy services when she decided to stay at home to raise her family, but she couldn’t say ‘no’ to the call of Mary’s Place.
Over the following nearly quarter-century, she grew Mary’s Place into an organization operating five 24-7 family shelters in King County with two in the South Lake Union area, one in Kenmore, one downtown Bellevue, and one they own in Burien.
“We fill buildings slated for demolition since it normally takes about two years to get a permit to take down an existing structure to prepare for a new one,” Hartman explained.
The Bellevue location, an abandoned Silver Cloud Hotel, is a perfect example. Families with children have occupied it as an ideal location, a block from the Bellevue Children’s Museum and across the street, several blocks of grass, and a treed parkway bordering 112th NE.
But they’ve been told by developer SRM that it is planning a seven-story residential complex in place of the old hotel, so Mary’s Place will have a 120-day period to move once they get the final word.
When that happens, Mary’s Place will have to be helped to find a new location, or it will no longer have a presence on the Eastside.
Perhaps the coolest thing to happen to Mary’s Place is when Amazon, in March of 2020, donated eight floors of its headquarters for permanent use by Mary’s Place, which shelters 200 family members there.
The Burien facility located on 4.3 acres the organization purchased is providing a partnership with Mercy Housing to develop a sheller for 200 family members co-located with 90 units of affordable housing.
Hartman’s reference to the organization’s focus on children is exemplified by the creation of Mary’s Place’s Popsicle Place program.
It’s a program dedicated to the proposition that children with life-threatening illnesses should not be living in cars and tents awaiting treatments like chemo or dialysis.
As the Mary’s Place website explains, Popsicle Place “Provides comfort and care in a more private setting for medically fragile children and their families, many of whom are recovering from chemo, dialysis, and other treatments while living in their cars outside hospitals.”
The Mary’s Place Health Services team works with Popsicle Place families to make connections to necessary medical care, assist with follow-up, and support them in a shelter to ensure a safe and healthy environment while navigating their journey into permanent housing.
The organization’s “no child sleeps outside” campaign has elevated the awareness of family homelessness and the fact that even today, there are hundreds of children sleeping outside, Hartman said.
When I asked her what’s the key to stopping homelessness, she said, “Prevent it from happening in the first place by providing rental assistance and stability supports,” but added, “There’s little money being directed toward shelter programs,”
About the possibility Mary’s Place could be a model for other communities, Hartman said there has been internal discussion about possible expansion into the state’s three other most populous counties: Pierce, Snohomish, and Spokane. But she added there have been no steps toward actual geographic expansion of Mary’s Place’s reach.
When I asked her if that could be a task that lies ahead for her in retirement, she merely chuckled and said those kinds of decisions will be in the hands of Dominique Alex, the current chief program officer, who will serve as interim executive director.