Struggling with homelessness is tough and not having a stable mailing address can make it even harder. Whether it’s for job applications or benefits applications or even a library card, a mailing address is crucial. The good news is that there are options out there.
In this article, we’ll be reviewing 5 options to get a free mailing address for homeless people. We’ll show you where to go and what to do to find a solution that will meet your needs.
How to Get a Free Mailing Address
As rules and regulations change frequently, we’ve broken this article into two parts: solutions that still work and solutions that don’t work any more. There are a lot of people giving bad advice out there so we wanted to make sure you had all the information available to you.
Before we get into what doesn’t work, though, let’s talk about what does.
General Delivery is a service provided by the U.S. Postal Service. It allows you to receive mail without a fixed address. The post office holds your mail, and you can pick it up when it’s convenient for you. This is a great option if you’re homeless, travelling, or between addresses.
You do not have to apply to use General Delivery. People will simply send you mail addressed like this:
CITY STATE ZIP
When you pick up your mail, you will simply go to the counter and ask for it. You’ll need a valid photo ID to prove your identity.
However, there are some limitations on this service that you need to know about.
- Location: In cities with multiple post office locations, usually only one facility will offer general delivery. That means that you may have to travel to an inconvenient location to pick it up.
- Duration: General Delivery mail is only held for up to 30 days. Sometimes, it is only held for 10-15 days. You will need to visit the post office frequently to make sure that you don’t miss any mail.
- Availability: You’ll need to visit the counter, so you will have to pick your mail up during business hours. Always remember that the post office is not open on Sundays or holidays, either!
- Quantity: If you receive a lot of mail or if it accumulates because you don’t pick it up frequently, the post office may restrict your access to General Delivery and push you to purchase a PO Box instead.
A local homeless shelter can often provide you with a mailing address. This is a good option because shelters understand the needs of people without a permanent home. Many shelters offer this as a free service to residents and often even for non-residents. That means you usually don’t have to stay overnight in the shelter in order to use their free mailing address.
Shelters aim to help you get back on your feet and they understand that having a mailing address can be a crucial step.
You’ll usually have to register with the shelter in order to use their mailing service. This usually involves filling out some paperwork and agreeing to any terms and conditions they might have. Each shelter will have its own set of rules about mail collection, so make sure to ask about these.
To get started, simply approach the staff at your local shelter and ask if you can use their mailing address. Remember to check how long they’ll hold your mail and what ID you’ll need to pick it up. This option also offers you the added benefit of being connected to other social services provided by the shelter.
Even some organizations that don’t currently offer shelter services can help you receive mail. If you’re homeless and need a mailing address, then you can call 211 or contact your local Community Action Council to see if there are any nonprofits or community organizations in your area that offer mail services.
These services vary drastically by organization. Sometimes, you’ll have to pick up your mail on a certain day of the week or participate in one of the organization’s programs in order to use their mail service. Sometimes, these organizations will offer free meals or job-search services or case management resources as well.
You always need to contact the organization and register with them before you start sending your mail to their address. They need to know to expect your mail or they may just discard it.
Family & Friends
You can always ask a family member or friend if you can use their mailing address while you’re homeless. This is one of the easiest and most convenient options, as long as you trust them to keep track of your mail and not open it.
Before you start using someone’s address, it’s important to ask for their permission. Discuss how long you’ll need to use it and for what types of mail. This keeps everyone on the same page and avoids any misunderstandings.
One advantage of using a friend or family member’s address is the ease of access. You can pick up your mail when it’s convenient for both parties. However, remember to keep their privacy and security in mind. Always respect their space and time, as they’re doing you a favor by allowing you to use their address.
Work & School
If you’re currently enrolled in school or employed, these places can sometimes serve as a temporary mailing address. Educational institutions and workplaces often have mailrooms that handle large volumes of mail. They may allow you to receive your personal mail there, especially if you’re in a situation where you don’t have a stable home address.
Before using your school or workplace as a mailing address, it’s important to get permission. For schools, talk to the administrative office or the mailroom staff. If you’re working, consult your HR department or your supervisor. Make sure to understand any rules or limitations they have. Some places might only allow you to receive specific types of mail, like documents, but not packages.
Using a school or workplace is convenient because you’re already spending time there. However, be mindful of the institution’s policies and keep your personal mail separate from any academic or professional correspondence. Always collect your mail promptly to ensure you’re not causing any extra work for the mailroom staff. This is a practical and easy option, but it’s crucial to maintain professionalism and respect the rules of the establishment.
When using a school or workplace address for personal mail, keep in mind that privacy might be limited. Even if staff don’t open your mail, just seeing who it’s from could disclose sensitive information about you. For example, receiving mail from a medical facility or a government assistance program might reveal more about your situation than you’d like. Always weigh the convenience against the level of privacy you’re comfortable sacrificing, and consider if this option is the best fit for your needs.
How to Get a Cheap Mailing Address
If none of those solutions meet your needs, you may be able to opt for a low-cost mail option instead. The suggestions in this section are not free but may be able to help you if the free options aren’t adequate.
You can get a small PO box for as little as $5 per month from the United States Postal Service. This small box will only hold letter-sized mail but it will give you access to those letters outside of normal business hours.
Of course, you would still need to visit the counter during business hours for any larger parcels or packages that you might receive.
Virtual Mail Service
There are many virtual mail services that will scan your mail and send it to you via email. This is a great way to keep current on your mail without having to travel to a physical location to pick it up. These services usually cost around $10 per month.
However, there are some potential risks to consider. After all, someone has to open your mail and scan it which means that they could read it. It also doesn’t allow you to receive packages or physical items.
Myths about Mailing Addresses
There are some persistent myths about how homeless people can get mail. These are usually based on things that used to be true but have changed in recent years. In order to make sure that you have access to all the information you need on this subject, I wanted to address some of these persistent myths.
Sometimes, people will suggest that you have the government’s welfare office hold your mail. While that used to be something that worked in some areas, USPS appears to have cracked down on their rules.
According to Contra Costa County Employment & Human Services, USPS does not allow their Social Services office to receive mail for customers any more. Instead, they direct you to use General Delivery or someone else’s address now.
Things to Consider
There are many ways that you can get a free mailing address if you’re homeless. However, not all of these services are equal in usefulness or risk. As you consider which option is best for you, please consider the following.
You always need to get permission to send your mail there before you start using the address. Many services will not hold your mail for you if they haven’t already talked to you about it. Always establish the expectation before you start using the address.
Even if the person who receives your mail doesn’t open it, they can learn a lot about you from the mail you receive. Mail from health care providers or government programs can give the recipient more insight into your personal life than you would like. Keep this in mind when you choose who will receive your mail for you.
You’ll need to make sure that you check your mail regularly to avoid accumulating a bunch of mail. Many offices will not hold your mail for more than 30 days. Your friends and family may set their own policies about what they keep and how long they store it. Always make sure that you adhere to any guidelines or requirements.
There are many ways to get a free mailing address for homeless people. This article outlines five potential options, including General Delivery, Homeless Shelters, Friends & Family, and Work & Schools. We described the advantages and pitfalls of each, and also provided guidance about what you need to consider when making the best choice for your situation.