[Hpn] News in Seattle Homeless v.s. U.S. Postal Service

Anitra Freeman anitra@speakeasy.org
Wed, 10 Jan 2001 23:12:16 -0800 (PST)

Several homeless people in Seattle recently went to court against the
U.S. Post Office for refusal to provide a post office box or general
delivery service. Each of the three men had asked about regular post
office boxes, "no-fee" post office boxes, and general delivery service.  
All three were told that they could not obtain a post office box without
providing a physical address on the application.  Each was told that
they could receive General Delivery Service, but only at the Seattle
Main Post Office.  At least one was told -- as many homeless people have
been told -- that they could only receive General Delivery service for
30 days. All were told that Seattle offers no Group E (no-fee) service
at all. Post Office regulations provide that a customer with residence
or business within the delivery boundaries of a city delivery office who
is ineligible for carrier delivery service from that office may obtain
post office box service free (one box of the smallest size available.)

The finding of the administrative law judge wasn't great.  He didn't
direct the Seattle Post Office to begin providing no-fee service to
homeless people.  He didn't direct that they let customers pick up
General Delivery mail at the post office of their choice. Those
decisions will be appealed to Federal court, where constitutional
issues can be brought up.

But the judge's decisions did include some good news for homeless
people. If you are having problems in any other city, being told that
you have to have a fixed address before you can rent a PO Box, or that
you can only get General Delivery for 30 days, you can tell them that an
Administrative Law Judge says they are WRONG.

1) He verified that there IS no 30-day limit on General Delivery mail.
The Post Office claims that this was a clerk's mistake, it will never
happen again. Us cynics in SHARE are going to be testing this.

2) He found that the Seattle Post Office was not following its own
regulations in requiring homeless people to supply a physical address
before renting a post office box.  A Postal Bulletin already exists to
make it easier for homeless people to get mail by allowing their
application to be approved under any one of three conditions:

--They are personally known to a staff member.
-- They provide a verifiable point of contact.
-- They provide identification with a signature and serial number, or
"other indicia that can be traced to the bearer."

That last provision is one of the matters being appealed.  One of
applicants had an ID card with his photograph, but no signature.  The
Post Office claimed it wasn't valid without the signature; that the
meaning of the rule is "[a signature] AND [a serial number or other
indicia]" and the judge agreed with them.  The applicant and lawyers
argue that the meaning of the rule is "[a signature and a serial number]
OR [other indicia]".

The other two applicants, however, were ruled by the judge to have
proper ID, and the Post Office was directed to approve their
applications for a post office box. The Seattle Post Office is also
rewriting manuals to make sure that clerks use these procedures to
handle future post office box applications from homeless people.

The case is now going to be taken to Federal court as a class action
suit.  SHARE and the original petitioners will carry the suit, but all
homeless people in Seattle are named as the class affected.  If we do
win further decisions in our favor, they will also set precedents for
people in other cities.

Write On! / Anitra L. Freeman / http://www.speakeasy.org/~anitra/
"We can't help everyone.  We can't fix everything.  It hurts. 
 But it is better to live with pain than to live without caring."