Gurney's Inn
November 15, 2006

As Homeless Numbers Rise A New Day at Maureen's Haven

They live in the woods and beneath train trestles. Young and old, men and women. They are the homeless of the Hamptons — and their numbers are increasing.

And, as the numbers spike, Maureen's Haven, a Riverhead-based shelter program operating under the umbrella of Riverhead's Peconic Community Council, Inc., has seen some major changes this year.

The season for Maureen's Haven officially began on November 1, and there has been a changing of the guard: Denis Yuen was recently named housing initiative coordinator. And, with the departure of Jennifer Truscott, executive director of the PCC, the post is being manned by interim executive director Peter Saros. PCC also said good-bye recently to retired associate director Mardythe DiPirro.

But despite the staff changes, PCC is dedicated toward reaching out to the increasing numbers of homeless. Yuen, an East Moriches resident and financial advisor who is also the executive director of The Greater Westhampton Chamber of Commerce, said only two weeks into the program, the number of homeless guests arriving at area churches that provide a warm meal and shelter for the night has "increased dramatically."

Peconic Housing Initiative Director Jennifer Giardini concurs. Although the overall numbers for homelessness are down from 2005, countywide, numbers have risen in the last few months. Presently, she said, there are 300 homeless families being sheltered by the Department of Social Services, with 171 homeless singles. In Maureen's Haven, the numbers since last year alone have doubled: Last year at this time, the highest number of guests per night was 10. "This year, we're up to 26 already."

And, said Giardini, the number of women visitors has increased.

Yuen attributes the spike to a drop in employment opportunities, especially in the construction trade arena, leaving many individuals without income and unable to afford a rented room. "Cutting back usually means cutting back on rent," he said.

This year, Yuen plans to institute a number of changes in the Maureen's Haven program, including reaching out to additional churches and volunteers.

Yuen has also worked to spark a continuing dialogue between church coordinators, screeners and volunteers, so that all involved can update one another on various situations and make recommendations, with an eye toward enhanced communication.

A key component toward addressing the homelessness crisis on the East End is awareness, said Yuen. "My perception is people don't realize there's a homeless problem in their own backyard."

Giardini said PCC is currently running a number of programs at its achievement center for guests, including blood pressure screenings, nutrition and employment programs, and dental and health services.

Those who need shelter can call the PCC's Hopeline at 1-877-727-6820. And, reminded Giardini, shelter is also available through DSS after 4:30 p.m.; call 854-9100.

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