News From The Fourth World: Mail Dump

One of the hardest things about being homeless (and trying to work your way out of homelessness) is that you struggle with things

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Image by ClintJCL via Flickr

that many of us take for granted every day – like a safe, reliable way to get your mail. Not many homeless people can pay for P.O. boxes or commercial mailboxes.

Which makes the loss of reliable mail service to people living in the most marginal of homes even more poignant.

The first step out of homelessness is often to start in what’s called a Single Room Occupancy (SRO) “Hotel.” The people who live in these body-sized rooms live there permanently. It’s become the norm to call them hotels, even though, in actuality, no one is renting these rooms for one night. Keep in mind, if someone lives in a condo or apartment building (which are more like these SROs than a “hotel” is), then mail is required to be sorted into individual locked boxes. Which is how mail in SROs used to be handled. However, because of the name “hotel,” the U.S. Postal Service recently has decided to dump the collective mail of everyone living (permanently) in an SRO onto a main desk – and leave it. The Post Office says it made the change because of budget problems and that they’re following “the spirit of the law” for hotels.

Is this just a trivial issue? Are we catering now to the diva ex-homeless? Um, no. As an SF Chron reporter put it, “There is no group more likely to be living on the ragged edge of financial stability, and in general they live in a high-crime area. In other words, they are much more likely to be ripped off, and if they are, they’re much more liable to suffer severe consequences.”

So far, individuals have (among other things) had a cashier’s check stolen (which resulted in eviction and a return to living in shelters). Another person failed to receive written notification that he had hepatitis C, and others have lost crucial government and disability benefits.

These are people who can’t take that kind of hit (perhaps even less than the rest of us could).

In a Proud-To-Be-San-Franciscan move, City Attorney Dennis Herrera stated to the Chronicle, “There is no reason for the Postal Service to balance its budget on the backs of some of our most indigent groups.” Herrera has notified the U.S. attorney’s office of the city’s intention to sue the Postal Service in two weeks if fair and equal mail delivery is not restored. Or, the Chron puts it – Herrera’s about to go postal. Oh, and BTW, Herrera mailed the letter. Hopefully they will get the message.

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