By Rick Murphy
Hidden Cove, the Hampton Bays motel converted into a Suffolk County homeless shelter despite complaints from neighborhood residents, will weed itself of all county-welfare recipients by the end of September and probably sooner.
The Independent, in a series of articles last year, detailed the plight of three rent paying residents the county tried to evict from the motel, on West Tiana Drive, and replace them with county homeless at a significant cost to taxpayers and the Hampton Bays school district.
An elderly woman and her disabled daughter were two of the victims – they were paying $700 a month to live year-round in the building. But as the County Department of Social Services (DSS) moved more and more homeless people in, it put pressure on the women to leave. First, their rent was raised to $1140 a month, and when they balked at the higher number, the county – through a management company it hired to run the facility, Community Housing Innovations Inc. – eventually sued to evict the pair.
The larger issue was that the residents brought in by the county weren't from the area – in fact, the county had to transport school-age children living in Hampton Bays back to their original school districts every day.
"This is a sensitive issue," said County Legislator Jay Schneiderman, who worked with Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst lobbying the county to close the facility to homeless residents. "We have a responsibility to help these people, but these weren't our homeless families."
The county recently opened two facilities upisland which will allow the homeless families to stay closer to where they originally lived, and for the children involved to be closer to their original school districts, Schneiderman added.
Gregory Blass who was the Commissioner of the Suffolk County Department of Social Services until January, knocked heads with Throne-Holst over the facility. Blass, in an exclusive interview with The Independent last November, said housing at Hidden Cove Motel was designed to be temporary, and that no more than six students were enrolled in the Hampton Bays School District at any given time.
Throne-Holst said in fact 40 children from Hidden Cove are on the books at Hampton Bays School District. "Once they are [moved to Hidden Cove] Hampton Bays becomes the sending district and pays the cost to educate them in perpetuity," she said, meaning local taxpayers foot the bill, even if the students are transported back to their sending districts.
"Blass saw his mission as putting the homeless in Southampton," Schneiderman opined. But after a meeting with County Executive Steve Bellone last Friday it was decided to move the DSS residents from Hidden Cove.
"Last Friday Supervisor Throne-Holst and I met with officials from the Bellone administration and the Department of Social Services and made the case for the discontinuance of the Hidden Cove shelter in Hampton Bays." Schneiderman said. "It was agreed that the county would stop placing new families at Hidden Cove and would place the remaining families in permanent housing over the next few months. The facility may be closed as early as July, but no later than by September 30 of this year. I appreciate the cooperation we have received from County Executive Bellone in addressing this issue."
The decision comes too late to help Nick Saradakis, a former tenant who went public with his complaints about the facility and CHI. He said the county spent as much as $5000 per family per month of taxpayers' money for residents – Saradakis paid his own rent, yet he was evicted after a protracted battle with CHI and the DSS.