An Uncivil War

Since I sold my property this summer my personal mail is being sent to the main post office in Santa Cruz. I have been using a post office box for several years for my business mail–keeping a Santa Cruz mailing address is a marketing technique to enhance searchability on the internet. Don’t ask me if it works. Check me off as someone willing to play the game…even as I confess an unwillingness to keep current on the rules.

I like the main post office. I like the granite structure and the long steps leading to the entrances. It has some beautiful murals, tucked way up high, worth parking for. It has rows and rows of glass and brass fronted mailboxes, various sizes. The location of mine is perfectly placed for my grandsons to open with their small hands and pull the mail out piece by piece. I have, on occasion, encouraged them to holler “helloooo” into the open box–and on occasion they are rewarded with a smiling (or perplexed) face of a postal worker peering back out at them. My youngest grandson, Max, is obsessed with the self-mailing package machine. The key pad blinks and bings and beeps when he types away and the pull-down package bin makes a satisfyingly loud CLANG when he pulls it and lets go of the lever. Older grandson, Gunner, keeps a watchful eye on the plantings growing in a fenced bed just to the left of the front doors, and always chooses the winding ramp over the stairs when exiting.

I like mail. I like sending it and I like receiving it. Often the envelopes I send must be individually weighed to check if one too many photographs have tipped the scale on the forever stamp. So, you may wonder, what’s the reference to uncivil war in the title? Our main post office in Santa Cruz has become a battleground, a last stand perhaps, for the ever growing and present homeless population so abundant in Santa Cruz County. Many days I’m greeted by the strong smell of urine when exiting my car. A shopping cart, re-purposed baby stroller, or a wagon of some sort, ladened with the life belongings of a person sleeping or sitting nearby is common and often there are several such “camps”. Last year a perimeter fence was installed around the entire side and front of the post office to keep people from camping in the planting areas and on the portico of the entrance, a fence that locks at night and has official signs posted every 20 feet or so warning of trespassing. And so now instead the sidewalks are covered, and every few days the encampments are cleared and the walks hosed down and disinfected. Then, the uncivil war continues without a beat.

I get it. This is not ok. It needs to change. Human beings, surely created in the image of the Creator as much as you and me, are passed out and occasionally urinating on the sidewalks for goodness sake. It is easy to pass judgement and I sometimes do it in spite of my desire to stop. Today I stopped to talk to the postal worker who was sweeping up trash and trying to make some order in that chaos. “What is the answer?’, I asked. He told me there isn’t one. He shared how a very sweet, but mentally ill, woman was taken to jail the day before because of unpaid fines and was now racking up more fines because the jail charges room and board. He paused and finally he gave his solution to the problem: money, or folks with a lot of money, was needed to provide for the mental health and addiction recovery facilities to help these people get back to productive lives. He didn’t suggest the government and I expect he figured that the help needed would not come from that direction. He suggested people with means.

I’m at a loss to see the answer. I know it is not as simple as helpless people needing help. I understand the addicted and mentally ill (and, yes, the homeless that choose the lifestyle in a laid-back community like Santa Cruz) are not easily sorted or helped. I do agree money is needed, though what it is used for may be as important as getting it.

I began this rant with an image of beauty, taken from the Lookout Bench in Henry Cowell State Park. I am privileged to walk up there when I choose. I use my state park yearly pass that I purchased to park in the parking lot. I end this rant with a photo of that postal employee sweeping up leaves soak with urine with a person passed out nearby on the sidewalk. The contrast is stunning.

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