The U.S. Postal Service is closing its Medford lobby at night after receiving reports of aggressive transients and drug users hanging around inside.
The USPS posted a sign notifying customers of new, restricted lobby hours on March 12.
While post office branches historically have offered 24-7 access to customers’ mail boxes, the Medford lobby at 10th Street and Riverside Avenue is now locked between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. weekdays. Weekend hours are still being determined.
Local police say issues at the post office mirror problems faced by businesses throughout the downtown area.
Mark Hawkins, a postal union representative and lead sales associate for the downtown post office, said problems have included vandalism, piles of fecal matter on lobby floors, trash fires, and threats against employees who have asked aggressive transients to leave the premises.
“There has to be precautions taken, and management has been forced to make these changes,” he said. “I don’t know if they were the only options they had. That’s probably something they should have maybe explored a little more before deciding they’d just close it.” Hawkins said he was speaking as a union representative and not an employee.
Phone calls to regional postal officials went unanswered.
While post offices in bigger cities often hire security for evening hours, regional locations seem to resort to restricted access.
“I think Grants Pass is locking theirs now. Klamath Falls locks theirs. They burned the Cave Junction post office down four or five years ago, so that one gets locked, too, now. I’m not going to blame it on local law enforcement, because they don’t have the resources to deal with how bad it’s getting all over Medford,” he said.
“And it’s not about people being homeless. The activity going on there is criminal. Sometimes customers will say stuff like, ‘Aww, leave them alone,’ but we don’t want people feeling uncomfortable checking their P.O. box when there’s some guy lying in a puddle of urine surrounded by longneck bottles.”
A social-media post on the Jackson County Scanner Group page about the issue yielded an array of frustrated comments, with some users posting photos of transients sleeping inside cabinets and with shopping carts inside the lobby.
Medford resident Brandi Moore called the situation a “lose-lose.”
“The post office has to protect its property and health and safety of its customers. At the same time, it is a big inconvenience for individuals who need to access the post office after those hours,” Moore said, noting that she uses the post office almost daily and has had numerous upsetting encounters.
Customer Kaelyn Ramsey, who pulled into the post office parking lot Thursday, just after the lobby was locked, said, “One time I came to get my mail really late, and there were two homeless people, a man and a woman, and let’s just say they were partially naked and trying to get warm,” Ramsey said.
“The smells were horrendous. You never know what you’ll run into if you decide to check your mailbox. Not that you can do that anymore.”
Local business owner Cathy Beemer was upset about the post office restrictions but said local businesses and citizens have to be assertive and not let homeless activity dictate their choices.
“I do go there a lot at night because I can’t get anything done during the day, so I have to take my mail later. Nobody usually bugs me, but I also refuse to be a victim. I just walk tall. I won’t let them win,” Beemer said.
“Our local police are so good. They try and get them to move in a nice way, but the problem is just overwhelming and it’s all over Medford. I lease a property near Northgate, and our landlord hired security, but they still go through my garbage every night and they broke into my car.”
Beemer said nearby businesses seem to attract a similar element and “maybe should have a curfew, too.”
“The cleanest towns you see are the ones who do not cater to this segment of the population. Maybe our City Council, which decided to put Porta-Pottys in the downtown and has decided to fine stores when homeless people take their carts, can come up with a way to keep our post office open. I just can’t believe that pseudo entity of the federal government is just giving up and closing,” she said.
Medford police Lt. Kerry Curtis, while checking his own post office box, said he had witnessed homeless people loitering and had heard about recent fires and vandalism.
“I think it’s unfortunate that, whether it’s the post office or any other business, they would have to change the way they do things out of concern that there might be safety issues with remaining open,” he said.
“It’s tough this time of year when it’s cold and wet and our homeless population is seeking shelter. In a lot of cases, we try to offer services, but it’s the old case of, ‘You can lead the horse to water but you can’t make them drink.’ ”
Hawkins said postal employees face issues with transients and drug users on a daily basis, unlike anything they faced when the post office was located in the heart of downtown and near the Medford police station.
“We’re under the 10th Street bridge, so we all saw this coming when they moved us there. It’s why the gate is up on the side where our dock is. Lately they’re getting more and more territorial. When you ask them to leave, they act like they have squatter rights,” he said.
Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.