Bronx Mailroom Offers Simple Solution for Homeless and Working Poor

July 31, 2013 at 4:03 pm

At “Part of the Solution” in the Bronx, James Brannigan is the postman for over 1,700 people, from the homeless to the working poor.

“Day-to-Day Program Coordinator” is an apt title for James Brannigan, a man who often sees his clients on a daily basis and knows most of them by first name. They line up outside his office door to wait for things that most people do as part of an everyday routine in the comfort of their homes: a hot shower, a peek inside the clothes closet, or a trip to the mailbox.

On busy days, Brannigan says that up to 250 people will call or come to the POTS mailroom to check their mail.

But without a place to call home, many homeless individuals in the Bronx find their way here to Brannigan’s doorstep at Part of the Solution, or “POTS,” a multi-service non-profit which provides a range of services to low-income communities in the Bronx.  With a staff of 20 full-time and 7 part-time workers, the organization emphasizes a one-stop-shop approach to community development, providing a range of basic services to help people get on their feet and attain stability.

For those struggling to get out of New York’s growing shelter system, having a mailing address can be one step towards stability. Brannigan’s mailroom list contains over 1,700 names of individuals who use POTS’ address as a lifeline for seeking employment, opening a bank account, or collecting travel fare reimbursements from treatment programs.  The list includes the homeless as well as people who feel that POTS is a safer alternative than their own home mailboxes.

Chris Bean, Executive Director at POTS, explains: “[…] for a lot of individuals, hard mail is really the only way to get correspondence. And if you’re living on the streets, you don’t have a cell phone, you don’t have access to a computer, or even sometimes the knowledge of it, having a place where you can sort of call your home base, that’s what POTS can act as for a lot of people.”

New York City’s shelter population has swelled in recent years, with data from New York City’s Department of Homeless Services revealing over 49,000 individuals in the system as of July 2013 – a 61% increase since Mayor Bloomberg took office in 2002. Some critics cite the reduction of temporary government subsidy programs, while others blame the general economic downturn for the uptick in the homeless population.

Organizations like POTS provide a unique model for addressing poverty in New York, using a combination of the public and private funding to deal with the problem on the ground. In a MetroFocus interview about the history of family poverty in New York City, President and CEO of the Institute for Children, Poverty & Homelessness (ICPH) Ralph da Costa Nunez said “Government funds it, but the private institutions play the role and really do the direct service.” POTS received just over 14% of its total support and revenue from government grants in 2012; the remainder came in the form of individual, foundation and corporate contributions.

POTS focuses on bringing basic needs and dignity into peoples’ lives one day, one haircut, or one letter, at a time.  Development director Maureen Sheehan has said: “We can get a person a job, but if they don’t have clean clothes, or they don’t have the means to get their teeth checked out, it’s difficult to get much further.”