Local homeless services provider Carpenter’s Shelter views Amazon’s HQ2 announcement as a mix of challenges and opportunities. Last week, Amazon named Northern Virginia as a site for the company’s new headquarters and prompted concerns regarding rises in both housing prices and homelessness. Although these are serious risks for the community, a parallel rise in corporate engagement and philanthropy could have positive implications for the local community.

Housing is the ultimate solution to homelessness and the potential loss of affordable housing is especially troubling for Carpenter’s Shelter. Between 2000 and 2017, the City of Alexandria lost 16,000 market-affordable apartments—90% of the total market-affordable stock. Now, early estimates suggest that renters in the DMV could pay an additional $3,750 to $5,757 toward housing over the next 10 years. This is unwelcome news for those looking to end an episode of homelessness. It is not, however, a new issue for Carpenter’s Shelter. Even without Amazon, the local lack of affordable housing remains a daily reality for Carpenter’s Shelter’s residents and a serious concern for the area.

If affordable housing becomes increasingly scarce, rates of homelessness could also climb. One recent estimate found that an additional 14 people could experience homelessness each year in the DMV because of Amazon’s arrival. Though no one should have to endure homelessness, Northern Virginia—and the City of Alexandria in particular—is well-equipped to address the issue. In January 2018, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Government’s City of Alexandria point-in-time count revealed a 46% decrease in homelessness since 2011. At Carpenter’s Shelter, residential shelter stays remain consistently brief, lasting only 2.2 months for individuals and 3 months for families.

Right now, the primary cause for hope is the potential infusion of additional corporate engagement in and giving to the local nonprofit sector. On Sep. 13, Jeff Bezos ended his long-criticized absence from public philanthropy when he announced the $2 billion “Bezos Day One Fund” for homelessness and education. In a tweet last year, Bezos described his ideal approach to charitable giving as “helping people in the here and now—short term—at the intersection of urgent need and lasting impact.” He also cited Mary’s Place, a homeless shelter located inside Amazon’s Seattle headquarters, as special source of inspiration.

If Bezos’s focus continues on its current trajectory, then Carpenter’s Shelter’s ambitious property redevelopment project, known as New Heights, ought to catch his attention. Partner Alexandria Housing Development Corporation will soon demolish Carpenter’s Shelter’s longtime location in Old Town Alexandria and build an innovative, mixed use building in its place. Scheduled to open in early 2020, the new facility will feature a purpose-built, 60-bed homeless shelter on the first floor and 97 affordable apartments on the six floors above. By combining homeless services and affordable housing, Carpenter’s Shelter aims to meet the initial, immediate needs of those in crisis while investing in opportunities for their future stability.

In order to make way for New Heights, Carpenter’s Shelter temporarily relocated to the former Macy’s at Landmark Mall. This unconventional move captured the public’s attention and Carpenter’s Shelter hopes that Jeff Bezos will take notice, too. Shannon Steene, Executive Director at Carpenter’s Shelter notes, “Mr. Bezos’s newfound interest in corporate philanthropy could make him and Amazon welcome additions to an already generous community. With his engagement in projects like New Heights, Carpenter’s Shelter and the rest of the immediate area around the new HQ2 could become the springboard for the Bezos Day One Fund.”

Steene also added that the Nov. 20 announcement of the Bezos Day One Fund’s first round of funding--$97.5 million to 24 nonprofits including three DC-area organizations—is encouraging and said, “We look forward to having an ongoing dialogue with Mr. Bezos and Amazon about the ways that they can further enrich and support our community.”