Tag Archive | "Maureen’s Haven"

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.

Old Whalers May be Haven for Homeless

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By Marianna Levine

Last Thursday, interim pastor James Cardone, of Sag Harbor’s First Presbyterian (Old Whalers’) Church gathered together members of various Sag Harbor religious congregations to discuss the possibility of hosting a Maureen’s Haven Shelter one night a week at his church.

A few weeks earlier, the East Hampton Methodist Church had called a similar meeting, to announce it was hosting the temporary shelter one night a week and to seek the aid — either financial or in service — of local churches in order to make Maureen’s Haven possible in East Hampton.

The East Hampton meeting was meant to call together congregations in East Hampton and Montauk, but it was the Sag Harbor community which really turned out in full force, leading Cardone to think perhaps his village could take on another night to house the homeless of the East End. He was prompted by the concern he had for the people he saw sleeping in the Old Burying Ground next to his church.

A dozen or so people came to the Sag Harbor meeting including representatives from Temple Adas Israel, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the South Fork, Christ Episcopal Church, and St. Andrew’s Catholic Church. Also in attendance was the Peconic Community Council’s executive director Peter Saros, PCC’s board chair Prudence Carabine, and Maureen’s Haven Program Director Dennis Yuen. The PCC is an umbrella organization founded in 1976 that oversees health and human service groups in eastern Suffolk County. 

Saros, Carabine, and Yuen distributed leaflets and offered a documentary about the program which buses homeless men and women, ages 18 and over, to local churches for temporary shelter. The purpose of the program is to provide the area’s homeless population with a hot meal, a warm shower, a bed, breakfast and perhaps some dignity to endure the cold winter months.

Carabine explained the program’s guests have three designated pick-up and screening areas — one in Greenport, another in Riverhead, and a third in Hampton Bays. East Hampton may become a new pickup point this fall.

The program uses paid, professional screeners who search for any harmful weapons or substances, as well as for inappropriate behavior. They also perform Breathalyzer tests on prospective clients for the safety of the volunteers as well as the other guests. 

“Most people are very nice, appropriate, and very thankful they have a place that is clean and safe to sleep in,” Carabine added.

Yuen said by building a program on the South Fork, the community would enable homeless people to stay locally and not have to go further west to find help. At the moment, homeless people in the Hamptons are having trouble getting transportation to the pick up points and therefore are sleeping in cars in parking lots or in the woods. He did say it would take a while to make the program successful. 

“The community needs to identify the people and build their trust,” said Yuen who cautioned the church might only have a few people coming in the beginning.

The program has been running at about 30 eastern Long Island churches (mainly on the North Fork) successfully since 2002, and is named for Sister Maureen Michael, a Dominican nursing sister who lived in Hampton Bays and provided care for the homeless.

The meeting at the Old Whalers’ Church ended with community members voicing concern about the logistics of hosting the program both in East Hampton and in Sag Harbor. Janet Grossman of Temple Adas Israel suggested all houses of worship try to fundraise over the summer when there are more resources to tap, and perhaps East Hampton and Sag Harbor could share resources such as air mattresses that could be carted back and forth.

Suzanne Preim of Christ Episcopal Church said their church is already committed to assisting the Methodist Church in East Hampton and wasn’t sure if there were enough resources in the community to support both efforts. However she did admit, “The Whalers’ Church has a lot of space and a lovely big kitchen to use.” 

“Homelessness can happen to anyone — many of us may be just a paycheck or relationship away from being homeless,” said Carabine who went on to explain that some of the people the program serves are actually holding jobs or are young college students turned out by their parents.  


Local Churches Poised to Provide Havens to Homeless

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By Marianna Levine


With a jaw-dropping 13.2 million unemployed people now residing in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it comes as no surprise that more people, including residents of the affluent East End of Long Island, are living homeless and hungry. Thankfully there are many religious and secular organizations eager to help. However, when the make-shift “soup kitchen” at the Southampton Tire Center was shut down by the Village of Southampton last Wednesday, well-meaning citizens realized that a simple desire to help those less fortunate may not be enough.

Helping the needy will take proper planning and leadership, and the situation is urgent, according to artist and Bridgehampton resident Jon Snow.

“My God, this is an emergency,” he exclaimed. “The food pantries can’t keep their shelves stocked.”

And community members of such organizations as the Bridgehampton CAC as well as area churches are concerned it will only get worse in the fall.

Due to increased financial need on the East End, affordable housing advocate Barbara Jordon, with the help of the United Methodist Church of East Hampton, where she is a member, gave a presentation on Maureen’s Haven, a nation-wide program that provides occasional shelter for the homeless, to several members of religious congregations in East Hampton and Sag Harbor last Tuesday night.

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, doctor’s visits, and clothes to the area’s 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.

According to Jordan, “There are about 500 homeless people in this area, and many are middle-class people who are working but living in their vehicles. Some may be camping out in the woods or on friends’ sofas.”

With all this in mind she asked area congregations to support her in setting-up a branch of Maureen’s Haven in East Hampton, and possibly Sag Harbor.

Suzanne Preim, a member of Christ Episcopal Church in Sag Harbor attended the meeting with fellow member Kathy Tucker, in order to see how their congregation may help Jordan. Although their church isn’t officially involved yet, the ladies thought their church might help by volunteering their time to such a shelter.

Kathy Montaldo, the coordinator for social ministry and stewardship at St. Andrew’s Catholic Church in Sag Harbor, also went to the presentation.

“[Jordan] certainly lit a light for us here,” she said. “[East Hampton Methodist] can only host people two nights a month, but what about the other 28 nights.”

Montaldo hoped all the religious communities in Sag Harbor will come together to provide something of this sort in the village, noting that Rev. James Cardone, of the Old Whaler’s Church, who also attended, wants to take charge of the effort in Sag Harbor.

Leah Oppenheimer, the Hebrew School teacher at Temple Adas Israel has said the temple is also committed in helping out in anyway they can. The Hebrew School has already provided toys and other essential items to a family in need over the past year.

Linda Dickerson who has been coordinating a Maureen’s Haven at the Southampton Presbyterian Church for the past four years, notes “This year we’ve seen a very big increase in the number of guests we serve. Now we serve between 35-65 people a night.”

She explains about 50 percent of the volunteers who help with the overnight stays are non-church members. Because it takes a lot of money and volunteers to run the program, the church had to stop providing the overnight stays every Saturday and now make it available only every other week despite the increased need.

Not all the good-will and aid is happening through religious organizations. Lorraine Pepper of Sag Harbor has been hosting Saturday afternoon gatherings in order to collect donations for the local food pantry.

Snow, who was one of a group of former Obama for America volunteers who hoped to set up a soup kitchen in Bridgehampton, went so far as to get proper food certification through the Suffolk County Department of Health in order to serve hot food to the hungry. However, he stresses that it was a well-intended yet long and bureaucratic process. He suggests those already in the food industry should handle running some sort of food service for the hungry.

“There ought to be some sort of five East End towns task force for this led by people who are food professionals, and who already have food certification,” he suggested.

Chris Talbot, the Southampton Village Building Inspector who closed down the soup kitchen last week explained despite the tire center’s good intention, the business wasn’t zoned for food service.

“Had McDonald’s or the 7-Eleven wanted to do this there would have been no problem,” said Talbot.

He did note that if anyone wants to do something of this nature, and they don’t know what is required, they should, “Come in and ask us. We are here to help make it easier for people to do the right thing.”

Within the next two weeks, Pastor Jim Cardone of Old Whalers Church is hoping to call and host a meeting of Sag Harbor’s religious and community groups to address the homeless situation in the village itself. He says the homeless situation isn’t really hidden as far as he is concerned.

“As I look out of my office window onto the old cemetery at the end of the day, I can see a few people setting up cardboard shelters and settling in for the night.”