Caring Carriers : Postal workers watch for signs of trouble at specified homes

Mail piling up at a residence could be a sign of trouble, especially at the home of an elderly or disabled person. Who better to be on the alert than the men and women who deliver the mail? Now about 5,000 of them in Los Angeles are watching for any problems involving senior citizens or disabled people who sign up for the new Carrier Alert program. It's one way to ease worries over the aged and disabled.

The service is available to residents age 60 or older and the disabled who live in 90000-series ZIP code postal zones in Los Angeles. They must sign up for the program, a joint effort by the Postal Service and the city Department of Aging. Application forms are available at the city's 38 senior citizen centers. Officials hope to expand the program soon to San Fernando Valley areas with 91000-series ZIP codes.

A tiny decal on mailboxes indicates to carriers that the resident is a program participant. If they notice mail piling up or any unusual signs at a house, they will notify postal supervisors, who in turn will call authorities. A similar program, on a national basis, was attempted in 1982 but fizzled.

Postal authorities in West Hollywood started the program last fall after the starvation death of a 72-year-old woman who had been locked in a closet at her home by robbers. Her mail carrier noticed her mail piling up and stopped delivery. But authorities were not notified until a neighbor, worried by the woman's two-month absence, contacted sheriff's deputies.

About 600,000 senior citizens live in the city of Los Angeles. The figure for the county grows to about 1.5 million.

Carrier Alert is a simple, cost-free means of looking out for senior citizens, many of whom live alone. Keeping an eye out for one another is smart and humane.

To Take Action: To participate in Carrier Alert, call the city Department of Aging at (213) 368-4000.

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