By Marianna Levine
Last spring when a make shift “soup kitchen” was erected at the Tires Plus store in Southampton many people were shocked into an awareness of local poverty. The many pictures and headlines depicting large groups of men lining up for food presented an image of the Hamptons quite at odds with our area’s reputation for extreme wealth and exclusivity in the summer months. Yet being homeless in the Hamptons is a year round realty for the approximately 500 hundred people currently seeking shelter in the five towns of the South Fork of Eastern Long Island. That is the estimated figure according to Barbara Jordan, and affordable housing advocate living in East Hampton.
Since April, Jordon has been on a mission to give the area’s homeless a safe, warm place to eat and rest during the cold winter months. She spent her summer organizing volunteers and raising money to buy supplies for a program called Maureen’s Haven, a national program that helps local church’s set up occasional shelters for the homeless. With the help of several community churches and non-religious organizations, East Hampton’s United Methodist Church will start housing guests every Friday night starting November 6th and will continue housing them through March. Sag Harbor’s Christ Episcopal Church and Addas Israel will be a part of the community-wide effort.
Jordan explained the program asks area churches to provide an overnight stay including a hot meal, a place to wash, and other things such as AA meetings, nurses visits, and clothes to the homeless during the winter months. People are only allowed into the program after they have been searched and screened for drugs, alcohol, and unstable behavior.
Jordan was overwhelmed by both the media interest in the shelter as well as the community’s generosity. “People are wanting to find something constructive and helpful to do.” She noted, and added “People have been great. I have to put people on a waiting list to volunteer at the moment.”
So far the shelter is a real mix of community volunteerism, according to Jordan. Although East Hampton’s Methodist Church is housing the shelter, which will only be able to accommodate about 20-25 people, Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church is backing the venture both financially and with volunteers. At the moment various congregations sponsor a Friday night, which means their parish or group pays for and makes a hot meal, sets up the bedding, and arranges for volunteers to dine and spend the night with the guests.
Sag Harbor’s Christ Episcopal Church will sponsor the night of November 20th, but East Hampton’s Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church, the Rotary Club, Living Water’s Gospel Church, Most Holy Trinity, and Renacer, the Methodist Church’s Hispanic Congregation are hosting a night as well.
Other community groups who heard about the program after all the nights had been spoken for are coming to help in other ways, Jordan explained. St. Therese in Montauk is taking care of clean-up while the Deacons of East Hampton’s Presbyterian Church are providing guests with a box lunch for the following day.
Secular groups also are pitching in. An individual, Jane Iselin, volunteered to launder the bedding, and the American Legion is cooking the guests breakfast. The Commander of the local VFW will be driving the VFW’s van around the towns and villages to pick up people who want to be sheltered. East Hampton high School seniors, as well as middle school students from Ross and the Springs school will be in charge of initial set up. Jordan even has a nurse volunteering each Friday to provide guest with medical attention.
According Kathy Tucker, of Sag Harbor’s Christ Episcopal Church, the task now is to spread the word to the homeless population. Jordan and Tucker are posting flyers in public rest rooms and libraries, letting those who need it know that there will be a van picking them up the Montauk Bus Station at 4:15 p.m., St. Luke’s at 5 p.m., and the Old Whaler’s Church at 5:40 p.m. each Friday.
Although Jordan said she’s had plenty of volunteers, Tucker said Christ Episcopal could use more donations of money or beverages, and another adult to help set up. Anyone interested in helping out should contact the Church. Leah Oppenheimer, head of Temple Adas Israel’s Hebrew School, has been collecting packages of underwear to pass out to the guests as well.
Jordan explains the homeless here are often “the working poor who don’t wish to leave because they have kids in school here or because they have actual jobs they can’t afford to leave.” The homeless are the people we see lingering in local coffee shops and libraries trying to stay warm when it turns nasty outside, she said. “We’re already aware of 12-15 people in East Hampton.” Jordan adds. She notes if you carefully look around, you’ll see them.