LIHI Suspends Mail Service to Several Shelters, Says “Legally, We Can’t Be Accepting Mail”

LIHI Director Sharon Lee speaks at the opening of Rosie's Tiny House Village in the University District
LIHI Director Sharon Lee speaks at the opening of Rosie’s Tiny House Village in the University District. Seattle City Council from Seattle, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

By Erica C. Barnett

Earlier this week, the homeless advocates at Stop the Sweeps raised the alarm about the recent decision by the Low Income Housing Institute to stop providing mail service to people living at several of tiny house villages.

“Stopping mail deliveries will have a devastating impact on people being able to stabilize and get IDs or social security cards, register to vote, handle any outstanding court issues, and do all of the things that transitional shelter is supposed to help with,” Stop the Sweeps’ Jay Jones said in a statement.

On Thursday, LIHI director Sharon Lee pushed back on charges that her organization was deliberately depriving people of access to vital documents, saying that most of LIHI’s tiny house villages have never accepted mail deliveries, apart from a few “holdovers” that were started as self-managed villages and taken over by LIHI, such as Camp Second Chance in West Seattle.

“Legally, we can’t be accepting mail because we don’t have [US] Postal Service mailboxes,” Lee said. “Villagers have complained in the past they’re missing checks or ID cards, or their packages are stolen—there’s no way to receive things in a safe and secure way, so most of the villages do not accept mail” already.

Since tiny houses are meant to be temporary shelter, Lee said, it doesn’t make sense for LIHI to set up a system for people to receive mail at villages .”People have Social Security, ID information, checks, pensions, and important documents [sent by mail] and the problem is that when people leave, there often isn’t a forwarding address” to send their mail to, Lee said.

The message from LIHI to its tiny house village residents provided several alternative options for getting mail, including the Compass Center’s mail service in Pioneer Square and P.O. boxes through USPS.

Since tiny houses are meant to be temporary shelter, Lee said, it doesn’t make sense for LIHI to set up a system for people to receive mail at villages .”People have Social Security, ID information, checks, pensions, and important documents [sent by mail] and the problem is that when people leave, there often isn’t a forwarding address” to send their mail to, Lee said.

Stop the Sweeps said people stay at tiny house villages longer than other shelters, creating something akin to a landlord-tenant relationship. “[Tiny houses] shouldn’t be treated the same as other forms of emergency shelter,” another member of the group said in a statement.

LIHI has argued in other contexts that it is not subject to landlord-tenant law—specifically protections that might prevent police from arresting people accused of attacking other tiny house village residents. In September, Lee asked Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz to tell officers to intervene in dangerous situations at tiny house villages after, according to Lee, it became “a routine practice for responding officers to refuse to arrest someone onsite” because they say doing so would violate landlord-tenant law.

“This includes death threats, weapons being wielded, domestic violence assaults between couples cohabitating the same unit, or non-clients breaking into our facilities who need to be removed,” Lee wrote.

In response to questions about the Postal Service’s policy on mail delivery to shelter offices, a USPS spokeswoman directed PubliCola to the agency’s online instructions for people without fixed addresses to get their mail at a P.O. box or through General Delivery.

It’s unclear how many tiny house village residents will be affected by the changes to LIHI’s mail delivery policy.

10 thoughts on “LIHI Suspends Mail Service to Several Shelters, Says “Legally, We Can’t Be Accepting Mail””

  1. Lihi says there’s no way to receive mail in a safe secure way. To me this means there has been mail and package theft at tiny home villages and they don’t have enough security to prevent it.

  2. Water supplies are filthy
    Mail stolen
    Staff high
    Filthy kitchens
    Drugs and dealing rampant
    In t.h.v.
    But Miss Lee gets her 3vfigure salary.
    Exploitation if the vulnerable for inidividual profit.

    1. The drugs and drug dealing comment doesn’t stand up to statistics on the local homeless. At most 35% of the local homeless use any drugs, and over half of those only use alcohol or cannabis.

  3. LIHI almost lost in a court case whereas the petitioner was ascertaining that the Tiny house villages were a home therefore eligible for tenants rights. The judge said it was close since people receive mail there. So, now LIHI is stopping mail to avoid providing any sorts of human rights to the people they serve. LIHI likes to simply throw people out on the streets for nothing at times.

    1. Court case? Really? Didn’t read that in the article above. So this “petitioner” (homeless person?) had access to a lawyer and yet didn’t have a place to call home? If I was homeless, I’d rather have a large pepperoni pizza than a lawyer. What a waste of resources. If you have any sort of link or proof of this “court case” that LIHI “almost lost”, (how does one “almost loose” a court case anyway?) please share.

      And why on earth all the hate towards LIHI? This a a group that actually provides shelter and services for the homeless. I don’t agree with everything LIHI or the Salvation Army or other social service providers do…. but I’m smart enough to shut up and stay out of their way because they are helping people. Does Stop the Sweeps have any shelter beds? Tiny Homes? Just what does Stop the Sweeps bring to party?

      1. With over 11% of Seattle’s homeless self identifying as transgender back in 2019, I don’t think the Salvation Army does half the good in the region you seem to think it does.

  4. So, the obvious question is, how long do folks reside at Tiny House Villages? If they’re there for more than a few months (and they generally are), they should be able to receive mail. I know many folks who have been at Friendship Village for more than 12 months. If we were able to get folks quickly into low-income, permanent housing, you could deny them mail service for a few months, maybe. But we don’t.

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