Tag Archive | "homeless"

Homeless in the Hamptons: An Invisible Community Struggles to Survive

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Bill watches as two women kayak by at Lazy Point in Amagansett on Tuesday, August 12. He recently lost his six-figure job, wife and home due largely to his struggle with bipolar disorder, and now lives and works where he can across the East End. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

Bill, 56, watches as two women kayak by at Lazy Point in Amagansett on Tuesday, August 12. He recently lost his six-figure job, wife and home due largely to his struggle with bipolar disorder, and now lives and works where he can across the East End. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

By Tessa Raebeck

To Bill, the two most important things are his feet and his socks, followed closely by matches and plastic bags. The matches keep him warm, the plastic bags keep his things dry, and the feet and socks keep him going.

Bill, 56, has a college degree in economics and a minor in business administration from SUNY Oswego. He is kind, articulate and witty. Like thousands of people across the East End, he is also homeless.

Ten years ago, the Suffolk County Department of Social Services counted 435 homeless families and 222 homeless singles countywide. Those figures—which increased drastically in the economic downturn since—only account for those who meet the official criteria and choose to apply for help. In reality, the numbers are much higher.

It is no secret to locals that the image much of the world conjures up of “The Hamptons” is far from the realities of daily life on the East End, but for the countless homeless residents of these hamlets, that image is a blatant farce.

“How can you miss us?” Bill asked, staring out at the sailboats docked at Lazy Point in Amagansett as two women in a kayak paddled by. Scores of homeless people live here, but, in part due to their own security concerns, they remain largely invisible.

If you look closely, however, you can see the faint paths used by homeless people off wooded trails, under bridges and sometimes right in town. A man who lives behind a popular business in Montauk leaves before dawn each morning, but his footprints have worn down a path to his campsite. Born and raised in Sag Harbor, Andy, a friend of Bill’s, lives hidden in the center of the village. An expert on Southampton history, a man called Mahoney holds fort at a park in the village, regularly entertaining tourists who have no idea he lives where they stand.

At a clearing off Route 27 in Wainscott, local homeowners leave food for the homeless people who camp in the woods nearby. If neighbors buy a sandwich and only end up eating half of it, they’ll leave the rest on one of the lids of two garbage cans stationed at the clearing in an unspoken act of charity.

According to a 2013 report compiled by the federal government, New York State, with 13 percent of the nation’s documented homeless population, is one of only three states in which homeless people account for more than 6 percent of the population (the others being Florida and California). With over 77,000 reported cases in 2013, the number of documented instances of homelessness in New York jumped by nearly 8,000 people between 2012 and 2013. New York’s homeless population has increased by 24 percent since 2007, the largest increase by far in the country—and the numbers are far from the actual figures.

On a single night in January 2013, an estimated 610,042 people were homeless in the United States. Over one-third of those people, about 215,000 of them, live in unsheltered locations, such as under bridges, in cars or in abandoned buildings.

To Bill, living in a car does not make you homeless; there’s a roof over your head and a place you can count on.

Born in Jamaica, Queens, and a graduate of Hauppauge High School, Bill has suffered from bi-polar disorder his whole life, but was not diagnosed till he “was old.” He came to the East End when he was 17 because he was drawn to the service industry.

“I like the whole premise of restaurant business: Helping people, service, making people happy, learning to deal with difficult people,” he said. “I thought—and I still think—I’m good at it.”

The “extracurricular” affairs of the restaurant industry—namely, drugs and drinking—became too much for Bill, who, like many who suffer from bipolar disorder, also struggled with addiction. After years of drinking to excess, Bill is now a recovering alcoholic who said he hasn’t had a drink since the early 90’s when his son was three.

“I think in extremes, everything…you’re either super happy or ready to commit suicide,” he explained.

Struggling with his condition and unable to find balance between complete bliss and extreme grief, Bill lost his six-figure job and his wife left him. He briefly lived up-island with family, but returned to East Hampton, where he has spent the past year searching for shelter, food and friendly faces.

He takes “top half of body” showers in public restrooms and jumps in the ocean to stay clean, a feat that, like most conditions of homelessness, becomes much harder in the cold winter months.

Although Bill doesn’t like to ask for help, when he’s especially down on his luck he goes to Maureen’s Haven in Riverhead.

Funded solely through donations, grants and funding from all the eastern townships, Maureen’s Haven offers shelter, support and “compassionate services” to homeless adults on the East End. There is a crisis hotline and a day center that provides opportunities like AA meetings, ESL and GED classes to help people find work and permanent housing.

From November 1 to April 1, the center transports homeless people from the North and South Forks and takes them to one of 18 host houses of worship between Greenport and Montauk. They are given a hot dinner and a bed to sleep in and are taken back to where they were picked up, be it a bus stop or a side-of-the-road clearing, at 7 a.m.

Since its 2002 inception, Maureen’s Haven has sheltered over 2,500 individuals. In the 2013-14 winter season, the program served 337 adults and was able to secure employment for 40 percent and place 52 percent in permanent housing.

Although a lot of homelessness “has to do with disability, incarceration, drug use, alcohol abuse and job loss,” Program Development Director Tara Murphy said, there are “a number of different issues and each case is different.”

One woman, Mary, arrived at Maureen’s Haven “terrified and desperate,” the center said, after fleeing an abusive relationship. She began the healing process at the center and is now living independently with support from a local domestic violence agency.

A 77-year-old man suffering from dementia with no family nor support system, James had been living disoriented on the streets. The center secured supportive housing for him in a program specializing in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

“It’s not about homelessness, it’s not about tough times, it’s not about addictions,” Bill said of the stigmatization of the homeless. “We all wear the same clothes…what I’m saying is, if we have two different socks on, who cares?”

To volunteer at Maureen’s Haven, call (631) 727-6836, email info@maureenshaven.org or visit their website.

In From The Cold

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Things turned cold on the East End this week. Real cold. By the time the sun went down on Tuesday, the wind was howling and the windows in many a house rattled in their frames throughout the night as a result.
But imagine if you’re among the unfortunate 400 or more individuals living on the East End who don’t have a place to call home. Have you ever wondered what they do on nights like this?

For these people, passing the night generally means hunkering down wherever they can in a spot that seems sheltered, secluded and safe. It could be under a porch, next to some hedges, or behind a business. And in the morning, if they haven’t been roused from their spot in the wee hours, there’s always the question of where they’ll go when the sun sets again that evening.

But fortunately, there is Maureen’s Haven. This non-profit organization is staffed by hundreds of volunteers dedicated to providing the East End homeless population on both the North and South Forks with a safe and comfortable place to pass the night in the area’s houses of worship or community houses.

When Maureen’s Haven, which had been operating primarily on the North Fork for seven years, began on the South Fork last year, though members of many churches and temples signed on immediately to help in the effort, there was only one church able to house the clients and then, only two nights a month.

It has taken some time to coordinate the components and iron out the details but now, the program is in full swing with host churches participating from East Hampton to Greenport. From November 1 to March 1, Maureen’s Haven provides the homeless with a safe place to sleep every night. Individuals in need are picked up at locations throughout the East End and transported to the places where they will spend the night. They are given a hot meal, a shower, warm clothes and the chance to enjoy a movie or just relax in a comfortable bed. In the morning, they are given breakfast, a lunch to go and are taken back to where they were picked up.

The fact that Maureen’s Haven is able to offer this level of service every night in the coldest months of the year is to be applauded. The fact that they do it while also treating their guests with the utmost respect and dignity is inspiring. In fact, Maureen’s Haven has become something of a community in and of itself. And come Christmas Eve, the guests will be invited to settle in for the night a little earlier than usual and will even be invited to watch the church’s Christmas pageant. If that doesn’t embody the spirit of the season, we don’t know what does.

A Safe Haven for the East End’s Homeless

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web Maureen's Haven_3415

By Emily J Weitz

What would you do if when you walked out of a movie on a chilly winter evening, you found a homeless man slumped in the doorway, hiding from the cold? Would you offer him a dollar, or a blanket, or a place to stay?
These are questions that those who have lived in the city know all too well. But here on the East End, it’s much easier to believe that homelessness is not an issue. You don’t see wheelchairs parked outside 7-Eleven with people sleeping beside them. You don’t get hit up for a quarter every time you set foot on Main Street. But that doesn’t mean the problem isn’t there.

The homeless population on the East End is significant — an estimated 400 to 500 people are currently living out of their cars or in the woods. And as the nights get longer and colder, these people need the help of their community if they’re going to survive. Maureen’s Haven, an East End organization devoted to serving the community’s homeless, invites people to spend the night in a place that’s safe, warm, and just as important, dignified.

Maureen’s Haven was founded in 2002 by Kay Kidde, who financially supported the effort on her own at first. Since then it has grown into a non-profit that offers housing to the homeless on both forks of the East End seven nights a week during the coldest months of the year, from November 1 through March 1. There are 14 host houses of worship across the East End that serve as temporary accommodations for guests. Every day, while many of us are driving by obliviously, people congregate at the railroad stations in Riverhead, East Hampton, Hampton Bays, and Montauk. There they are screened for behavior and drug and alcohol use. Then they’re shuttled to the host place for the evening, where they’re provided with a warm meal prepared by volunteers. After sleeping over, they get breakfast and a bagged lunch to take on their way.

“It’s important to have tolerance towards people who are homeless,” says Tracey Lutz, Program Director of Maureen’s Haven. “It’s not just people who have drug or alcohol problems or who are criminals. Some people have just hit on hard times.”

The philosophy of this organization is rooted in respect and Lutz notes this respect is evident in the quality of the services the guests receive, such as the meals carefully prepared meals. Lutz calls a recent dinner “Lovely. We walked into the church and there were no paper plates. There was regular dinnerware with silverware and candles. It was like walking into a restaurant.” Guests sit together, with volunteers and staff, and eat. They share their stories. They make connections.

Father Shawn Williams, of Christ Episcopal Church in Sag Harbor, recalls the first time his parish hosted Maureen’s Haven last year.

“We slept on air mattresses on floors with the guys that were there. You realize that there is a lot more of a homeless population you might have ever thought,” says Williams. “I have never failed to find that people in this situation are unfailingly polite. They really do appreciate when people extend themselves for them. I don’t know if people always have that expectation.”

Williams remembers waking up in the morning “at an ungodly hour,” beside a man who “had been a little cranky… But he knew what he had to do and he had his routine. I kept thinking about this guy having to make sure everything was in order for that day, making sure he could get someplace where it wasn’t too cold. This guy has been reduced to this small amount of stuff. It really nails you … It’s a lot of work just living.”

It begs the question: between breakfast at one church and dinner at the next, where do these people go?

“Some of them work full time jobs,” says Lutz. “They just still don’t get paid enough to put a roof over their heads.”

Others are day laborers, and some attend programs for mental health issues.

“One lady spends a lot of time on the bus,” says Lutz. “She’ll do the Montauk to Orient loop and back. That’ll take up a day. Others will go to McDonalds and buy a cup of coffee and sit for two hours reading the paper. Holidays are the hardest time for our guests because everything’s closed and they have nowhere to go.”

That’s why on Christmas Eve, the doors of the hosting church will open early, at 1 p.m. That evening, guests will join the congregation to watch the Christmas play and celebrate the holiday. Lutz notes that because Maureen’s Haven is known as a safe haven for the homeless, a real community has developed around it.

“We have a core group of regulars and we are their extended family,” says Lutz. “Some of our guests, when asked to list the next of kin in case of emergency, list us.”

And , she adds, they unite with one another as well.
“There was a woman in the program who was diagnosed with terminal cancer,” says Lutz. “Everyone took care of her in her final days. They made sure she had a permanent place to stay the last weeks of her life. Everyone chipped in and gave her a proper funeral. That’s what happens in the program. You get connected to them.”

Volunteers make the work of Maureen’s Haven possible, and many parishioners at the participating church have jumped in to lend a hand.
“There were people in my congregation up to 80 years old, plus teens helping set up,” says Father Williams. “I don’t think there was a single person who didn’t appreciate the opportunity to be of help to people, or who didn’t grasp what it was they were seeing. Given the chance, most people do want to help.”

Tracey Lutz agrees.
“It’s remarkable how people come together as a group to do something so loving and caring,” she says. “Without the volunteers we have, we’d never be able to offer this service. We have 1,500 volunteers who take the time to make meals and treat their fellow human beings with love and care, which is just a beautiful thing.”

The shelter service is only one part of what Maureen’s Haven does. There’s also the HOPE line, which is a walk-in center and hotline number (1-877-727-6820) that people who are homeless or on the verge of homelessness can use as a resource for assistance in securing housing or jobs. And then there’s an achievement center, located in Riverhead, where individuals can get help with their GEDs, job applications, and resume writing. They can even get appropriate clothes to wear in preparation for interviews.