Fighting for our urban nomads

Strolling through Seattle's parks and neighborhoods at this time of year, the air laden with the odors of tree buds bursting and green shoots rising from damp, dark soils, always fires me with a deep urge to ramble.

In my household the feeling is know as "Springer fever," as in Springer Mountain, Ga. This low peak holds the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, a 2,200-mile path winding through 14 states to Mount Katahdin, Maine.

Back in 1999 my wife and I joined the seasonal, nomadic community of backpackers determined to walk the trail's entire length in one go. While we never considered ourselves homeless with the woods as our domain, we were... when you compare our situation with the typical city dweller.

During our seven-month trek we kept in touch with friends, family and a significant portion of our food supply through various post offices in the towns and cities peppering the trail's route. Each week we'd visit a neighborhood post office at any time during their regular business hours to pick up mail and food supplies sent in our names care of general delivery. Without such a link to the urban world our successful completion of this challenging journey would have been doubtful.

Here in the concrete jungles of the Emerald City exists a different group of nomads depending on the same postal link to the world of family ties, employment opportunities and fiscal responsibility: the urban homeless.

Surprisingly, for these men, women and children, obtaining mail is a difficult process due to a nationwide policy limiting free mail service for the homeless to general delivery at only one location in a city or town, no matter the size. In Seattle, the general delivery service is open only a few hours each day at the downtown post office.

For the homeless finding refuge in our city's outer neighborhoods such as Rainier Beach and Northgate, the lengthy trip downtown to pick up mail costs them an unnecessary amount of time and money. These two precious resources are better spent seeking or maintaining employment, staying in touch with family and friends and, ultimately, in the journey to find a home.

Fortunately, Seattle Housing And Resource Effort (SHARE), a homeless advocacy group, joined with the South End's nonprofit Columbia Legal Services to combat the policy by recently appealing to the Supreme Court a 2004 Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision upholding the practice.

Removing communication barriers for our homeless neighbors by providing them unconfined mail delivery at the post office of their choice is a good fight, and SHARE and its lawyers deserve our collective thanks and support.

Helping those who are carving out a tenuous living on the fringes of our communities find the ultimate promise of warmer days to come - a stable home - represents an important step toward nourishing our neighborhoods to grow and blossom.

Erik Hansen is editor of our associate publication, the Beacon Hill News & South District Journal.[[In-content Ad]]