For the past 50 years, SOME has supported the basic needs of our clients experiencing homelessness each day by providing meals, showers, clothes, healthcare, and more. The pandemic has shown how much of a need Washington, DC has for fair and equitable mail services. Thanks to SOME’s Volunteer Services Team, Mailbox 71, SOME’s official client mail distribution program, clients can receive letters, stimulus checks, electoral ballots, and more.
In 2009, SOME’s Healthcare Services started collecting mailed IDs and health insurance documents as a courtesy for clients without a permanent address. Over time, the types of mail delivered to SOME started to include disability documents, housing vouchers, mail from clients’ family members, and more.
Earlene Johnson, SOME’s Clinic Office Manager, remembers that one of the biggest challenges in those early days was the uncertainty of when the client would return to retrieve their mail, an overflow of forwarded mail to SOME, and clients that started to use SOME as their personal mailing address. As Healthcare Services was not fully equipped to handle the drastic growth of incoming mail, Volunteer Services jumped in to help tackle the volume.
Looking to make the mail system more efficient in the face of increased need due to the pandemic, Volunteer & ABLE Coordinator, Rebecca Flaherty, started to research other nonprofits faced with similar overload. She discovered that Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County, a nonprofit in California—which also serves people experiencing homelessness —has a great system that SOME could use to address the mail needs of its clients.
She and JaVon Hansknecht, SOME’s Volunteer Services Manager, got right to work implementing the new system. He reported, “Rebecca and I have been sorting, alphabetizing, inputting, and handling all client mail here at 71 O Street.”
“Rebecca has done a fantastic job keeping everything organized and moving smoothly, even in light of the current circumstances and the constant inquiries about [COVID-19] stimulus checks from our guests. The program has grown strong and has established firm foundations through her efforts,” JaVon added.
Thanks to the hard work of SOME’s staff and volunteers, the mail program officially became part of SOME’s basic needs services in May 2020. Mailbox 71 is now an established free incoming mail post service for anyone in Washington, D.C. without a permanent address.
With 1,832 names in the system and counting, incoming mail is tracked as it comes in and must be signed out by showing an ID or a medical document. If someone is without an ID, they are directed across the street to Healthcare Services to obtain a new one. Delivered mail notifications are sent by email every Tuesday and Friday. Clients have up to four weeks to pick up letters and we will hold important documents and packages for a year.
For those experiencing poverty and homelessness in the District, Mailbox 71 has removed the biggest barrier to progress—not having an address.
This also includes participating in the electoral process. Through the efforts of the city and our programs, such as SOME’s Single Adult Housing, Residential Treatment, and the Volunteer Services teams, SOME has registered a combined total of 109 people to vote. Over 300 Official Election Mail packets have been distributed through the Mailbox 71 program, providing the people who are most impacted by public-policy decisions an opportunity to get involved.
To learn more about SOME’s Basic Needs Services, visit SOME.org/Services/Basic-Needs.