Neighborhood Deliveries

D.C. Native Accepts Packages for Street to Help Residents, Build Community

Posted September 30, 2011 at 2:19pm

Each and every package addressed to the residents on this block of 10th Street Northeast is delivered to one house.

The house belongs to William Outlaw.

For eight years, Outlaw has been accepting packages and parcels of all shapes and sizes for his neighbors on this street 10 blocks east of the Capitol. He has received packages as small as DVDs to those much larger — including a trunk filled with clothing, which he watched his neighbor pull away on a hand cart that he loans out for just such purposes.

“This past month has been my busiest so far this year,” Outlaw said, gesturing to the piles of packages around his house during an interview in August. “Around Christmastime, it’s hard to walk around my living room.”

With 130 neighbors counting on him, Outlaw keeps a tidy system, collecting their contact information and a delivery log in a red three-ring binder. 

“Sometimes when it’s nice out, I see him on his front steps with his red folder, calling neighbors who have received a package,” said Hayley King, 25, who was told to give Outlaw her contact information the day she moved into her house. 

The complex system Outlaw has set up keeps him pretty busy: accepting packages, recording package arrivals, calling people to let them know and settling in after work hours when people come to pick up their packages. “I have to be retired in order to do this,” the 84-year-old joked.

Indeed, Outlaw can often be found on his front steps, calling out his familiar greetings, “Hello, gorgeous!” or “Hello, handsome!” as people stroll by. After work hours, a steady stream of neighbors can be seen going into Outlaw’s home and leaving with a package in hand, as Outlaw sees them off with, “Take care now.”

“I would say the neighborhood revolves around him. People come and go, but he is a main fixture,” said Aaron Scott, 58. “If you don’t know who Mr. Outlaw is, you haven’t been here long.”

Outlaw has dedicated his free time to neighborly pursuits, and in addition to accepting packages, he can often be found watering plants, taking in newspapers and watching over houses when his neighbors are away. His name is passed by word of mouth between residents of the block, and sooner or later, everyone ends up on Outlaw’s front steps.

As the demographics of Capitol Hill have rapidly shifted, gone are the days when at least one person stayed home. The neighborhood is now populated by more young professionals and busy families with long work hours and few close relationships with their neighbors.

This born and bred D.C. resident has become the common thread tying his neighbors together. “There aren’t too many people home during the day,” Outlaw said. “A lot of people don’t know each other either, but they see each other at my house when they come to pick up their packages.”

Outlaw first offered his house as a delivery stop when a neighbor’s new refrigerator and stove were stolen from his front porch. After a string of package thefts in the neighborhood, Outlaw advised other neighbors to have packages delivered directly to him by leaving a sign on their doors or writing directly to the delivery service.

Why has he committed to this ongoing project? ”It’s something I like to do for my neighbors,” Outlaw said.

Outlaw and his wife, Pocahontas, are one of the few black families in the neighborhood, and they boast deep local roots. He was born just two blocks from his current house, in the back room of an apartment located above what is now a dry cleaner. He has witnessed many changes to his beloved neighborhood over the years and has done his part in maintaining the old-school sense of community he knew as a child.

“We used to decide we’re going to have a good time and just get in touch with each other and come on out of our houses and have a good time,” Outlaw said. “You’d think this was one big family, the way the whole block would come together. You have a lot of people today who just don’t know each other.”

Outlaw plans to keep it up until he gets “a little older” and said he aims to unite the neighborhood: “I’m hoping we get together and join hand to hand and become one big happy family, just like we used to do years and years ago.”