GREAT BARRINGTON — For more than 20 years Cora Portnoff has been mailing letters in the post office lobby at night, on her way home from Pittsfield.

But after trying the inside lobby doors on several evenings at around 7:30 p.m., Portnoff said she and others trying to either send mail or open their mailboxes have found doors locked.

Portnoff called the post office. An employee told her that, because two homeless people had been taking shelter there at night, they've been locking up early.

"Two men are controlling this whole situation," said Portnoff, who lives in Sheffield. She says she can, of course, mail letters in the box outside, but that it isn't fair to the public that the men are forcing the early closing.

The post office website says its hours are 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. It is unclear exactly what they were before the change. The postmaster could not be reached for comment. And the supervisor said he could not comment on the situation, but did say he wasn't sure what the previous closing time was.

Nobody knows what to do.

Portnoff said she called police and Town Hall and was told this "is an ongoing problem and basically nothing can be done."

Town Police Chief William Walsh said the problem is that there is a core of three or four homeless people in town that are constantly trespassing, especially in the winter, to take shelter in various buildings, and continuing to violate their no-trespass orders.

"They continue to go back and we continue to respond and take action," he said in an email. "Just one issue is using the lobby of the Post Office as a bathroom."

Walsh said one man has also urinated in the wastebasket in the police station lobby, and that the problem goes on all over town. On the morning of Dec. 23, logs show that a passing police patrol caught one of the homeless men urinating in the bushes in front of the post office.

"The bathrooms at local laundromats, convenience stores, Town Hall and the library have been defiled and trashed," Walsh added. "This behavior causes hygiene and health issues for the public ... ."

Police logs do show that officers are frequently responding to instances where they are called to remove one of the men from a building, often where the owner forbids his entry because of repeated incursions.

The logs also show that officers offer the men rides to a motel on a cold night, blankets and other services, and often the men decline.

"We do, however, regularly put some up either at Construct or a motel paid for by Construct for one night," Walsh said, of services by an organization that has emergency and low-income housing. "Recently we transported [a man] to Barden's Crossing in Pittsfield."

The nearest homeless shelter is in Pittsfield.

In 2018 the police department logged 87 incidents involving one of the men, who Walsh said is constantly violating orders.

Town officials are frustrated, as well.

"The court system has to do something to help us, also," said town Select Board Chairman Stephen Bannon, who said the post office should not be closing early.

"They're a post office — they should be able to figure this out," he said. "They should come up with solutions and not be creating more problems."

He suggested they might hire a security guard.

But Bannon appears willing to take some of the heat for the problem, and willing to try to solve it.

"The town needs to figure out a plan for people who are homeless or people who are trespassing," he said.

Heather Bellow can be reached at or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.