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Feb 8, 2019 3:57 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

East End Homeless Shelters At Max Capacity During Winter Months

Daniel Hale, Melina, Hale, and Peggy Cause serve a Super Bowl themed meal at The people of The United Methodist Church on Monday night. VALERIE GORDON
Feb 18, 2019 10:51 AM

Chicken broth kisses the brim of a red disposable bowl as an elderly man in tattered clothes saunters away from a long line of men and women waiting to fill empty bowls with chicken noodle soup.

The red ladle splashes into the contents of an oversized stainless steel pot, sending spiral-shaped noodles and chunks of chicken crashing against the sides.

It’s a typical Thursday night at the United Methodist Church in Southampton—one of 18 participating houses of worship involved with Maureen’s Haven, a Riverhead-based nonprofit that has been serving the East End’s homeless community for more than a decade. The organization partners with local congregations, which each take turns providing shelter to the area’s homeless—the churches open their doors for a single night at a time to those in need who are bused in by Maureen’s Haven.

Quiogue resident Kay Kidde spearheaded the program in 2002 after witnessing homeless men and women sleeping in the woods, bus shelters and train stations on the East End.

In addition to providing a bed for the night and a hot meal, Maureen’s Haven—named after Sister Maureen Michael, a Dominican Sister who tried to set up a similar program decades ago but could find no congregations willing to participate—offers health and support services, clothing, and general respite.

But space is limited—a common problem on Long Island.

According to Maureen’s Haven Executive Director Daniel O’Shea, the nonprofit is the only privately funded emergency shelter on the East End, and it taps out at 30 people per night—a number that is frequently exceeded during the winter months.

He added that there aren’t enough homeless shelters to accommodate those in need. “Absolutely not,” he said. “In reality, there could be a lot more resources for folks.”

When over capacity, Mr. O’Shea said that individuals are transferred to one of two overflow sites—Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church in East Hampton and Christ Episcopal Church in Sag Harbor—which can house an additional 25 to 30 guests.

He added that the resources available to those individuals in East Hampton is severely limited, with only three congregations participating in Maureen’s Haven’s winter program.

Richard Koubek, chairman of Suffolk County’s Welfare to Work Commission, in a report last year analyzing homelessness in Suffolk County, argued that there is an insufficient number of homeless shelters on Long Island.

In 2018, he said that Suffolk County Department of Social Services contracted with 22 county-funded organizations—including Nana’s House in Mastic—and housed roughly 2,500 people per night within 82 shelters in Suffolk County. He could not say how many of those shelters are located on the East End.

To keep track of the number of homeless people, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires organizations like Maureen’s Haven to annually conduct a count of all sheltered people in the last week of January. The point-in-time count, or PIT, helps to establish the severity of the homeless problem in certain areas and further assists policy-makers in addressing the epidemic, according to HUD.

In 2017, PIT counts revealed that several East End homeless shelters—including Nana’s House in Flanders, Catholic Charities in Hampton Bays, and Community Housing Innovations in Riverside—were regularly at their max. According to 2017 data, those shelters offer six, 14 and five beds, respectively.

The Long Island Coalition for the Homeless—an Amityville-based nonprofit dedicated to providing those who have fallen on hard times with food, clothing and health services—estimated that more than 3,860 people were homeless in Nassau and Suffolk counties last year. Mr. O’Shea could not offer a more localized number on Friday, offering only that in past years the organization has had to rely heavily on its overflow sites.

Maureen’s Haven’s winter emergency program is available from November 1 to April 1 and is open to anyone, as long as they are sober—before boarding the bus to the church hosting the program on a given night, they must pass a drug and alcohol screening test. The screening consists of blowing into a breathalyzer, a physical check of the person and baggage, and visual monitoring of their behavior, Mr. O’Shea said, adding, “We do like to make sure people are stable.”

In instances where individuals don’t pass, they are transferred to a hospital for treatment, or referred to the county, which often utilizes motels as temporary shelters, according to Mr. Koubek.

“We make sure that everyone who comes in, that they get to some sort of shelter,” Mr. O’Shea said.

Following the screenings, which begin at 5:30 p.m. at the Kay Kidde Achievement Center on Lincoln Street in Riverhead, individuals are transported free of charge to one of 18 participating houses of worship, or host sites—including Hampton Bays United Methodist Church, Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church in Westhampton Beach, and the Jewish Center of the Hamptons in East Hampton.

From there they are given warm clothes, if necessary, dinner, a bed to sleep in, and breakfast in the morning before they are transported back to the center at 7 a.m.. An additional bagged lunch—often prepared by volunteers from local civic groups and Rotary clubs—is also provided to each person when they leave.

At the Riverhead center, individuals can attend an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting or English class, consult with a medical professional or social worker, play a board game, or watch a movie.

“Having a safe, non-judgmental place to go is very critical for us,” Mr. O’Shea said. “We are known for our compassion and care and our ability to get to know the guests. When we have a higher level of trust, it helps us help them.”

One of the people taking advantage of the safe haven, a man originally from Brentwood who asked that his name not be used, attributed the organization’s overcrowding to the over-inflated cost of living on the East End. “Everything is so expensive,” he said on Thursday, January 31—when temperatures in Southampton were 16 degrees, with a wind chill factor of 3 degrees.

Last week, Wendy Falanga-Smalls, executive director of Nana’s House, called affordable housing the answer to the homeless crisis on Long Island. “The problem is, no one wants it in their backyard.”

Tom Ruhle, East Hampton Town’s director of housing, said that the town needs more than 750 affordable housing units and rentals to meet demand. In Southampton Town, more than 1,000 people are on the town’s affordable housing registry, according to Diana Weir, the town’s director of housing and community development.

Mr. Koubek said that only 18 percent of Suffolk County’s housing stock is rentals, compared to 37 percent in Westchester County.

“Because of the limited stock, the rentals are quite high. They’re out of reach for most people,” he said on Friday. “On any given night, almost half of the homeless families have some source of income. It’s not that they can’t pay rent—it’s that they can’t find an affordable rental and they wind up on the street.”

Additionally, he calculated that more than 56 percent of Long Islanders are paying more than 40 percent of their incomes toward housing costs, as opposed to the recommended 30 percent.

“Each month, these cost-burdened families have to make ‘Sophie’s choices’—do we feed the children or pay the rent?” he said. “In short, the shortage of affordable housing leads to homelessness.”

Other factors that contribute to the overwhelming homeless population on the East End include addiction and mental illness, Mr. O’Shea said. He explained that more than 50 percent of the individuals serviced by Maureen’s Haven are chronically homeless.

In those cases, he said the nonprofit works closely with the county social services department to determine their eligibility for food stamps, Section 8 housing, or Medicaid.

But, as a privately funded organization, the cost of running homeless housing initiatives is far from cheap.

Mr. O’Shea estimated that 30 percent—or more than $95,000—of the organization’s annual operating budget goes toward funding the five-month program. He said only a small portion of that is derived from state and county funding.

“It’s expensive. It’s very expensive,” he said. “We’re a grassroots organization. We don’t get very much county and state funding.”

Ms. Falanga-Smalls, whose organization operates 10 houses—a combination of homeless shelters and transitional houses—throughout Suffolk County, said that the county provides $182 per person, per day. However, in order to meet basic needs in 2017, the nonprofit needed to secure more than $130,000 in community donations.

According to Mr. Koubek, it costs Suffolk County more than $53,000 per night—roughly $19.3 million per year—to shelter 540 homeless families.

He said the solution to the insufficient number of homeless shelters on Long Island starts with an increase in state financial support. Last year, the New York State Affordable and Homeless Housing and Services Initiative provided $7.5 billion to combat homelessness and support shelter programs as part of a five-year, $20 billion Homeless and Affordable Housing Plan, which is expected to preserve more than 100,000 affordable housing units and 6,000 supportive housing units statewide, according to New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr.

In the executive budget for 2019-20, the state plans to continue that investment with $8 billion to support the operation of shelters, supportive housing units, and rental subsidies.

“I think we can all agree that there needs to be more funding for them,” Mr. Thiele said.

One of Mr. Thiele’s goals, he said, was to address the root of the homelessness problem: the lack of affordable housing on the East End. The assemblyman said he would consider amending his proposed Community Housing Fund bill—which calls for a half-percent real estate transfer tax, similar to the Community Preservation Fund—to address the funding shortfall.

“We all talk about providing for shelters,” he said, “but sometimes people forget that maybe we would be better off to keep people in the housing that they’re in now.”

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Isabel McDevitt, the executive director of Bridge House, contend that these services are an essential and largely effective resource for Boulder’s homeless.

“We have seen over the years that there is a significant portion of folks who are experiencing homelessness in Boulder and in most communities, who are looking for assistance to either return to their home community or go to another community where they might have a job, resources, friends or family,” McDevitt says.

The ...more
By dfree (818), hampton bays on Feb 16, 19 11:45 PM
There are homeless people all over the south fork if you know where to look -- in the woods, train station waiting rooms, people living in vehicles. The contrast of wealth is especially acute here, with empty heated mansions that are people's second, third, fourth...homes less than a mile from people without a warm, dry place to live.
By Aeshtron (431), Southampton on Feb 23, 19 8:49 PM
1 member liked this comment
"Do what you can, with what you have, where you are."*

God bless all the compassionate folks who share their blessings with those who haven't been graced with their good fortune.

These are the people that I want to know!

* Theodore Roosevelt
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Feb 24, 19 2:45 AM