Homeless Service Shuttered in East Hampton

Maureen’s Haven, the Riverhead provider of shelter and support services for the homeless, has ceased operation in East Hampton, though, its officials hope, only temporarily.  

Prudence Carabine, a volunteer who helped to operate the program in East Hampton, told the East Hampton Town Board last Thursday that while the number of people it served had declined to six or eight, the need remains. 

In East Hampton, the homeless were sheltered on an alternating basis at Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church, the Jewish Center of the Hamptons, and the East Hampton Methodist Church during the months the program was in operation each year, from Nov. 1 to April 1. 

“The biggest issue,” Maryann Gensler, the director of Maureen’s Haven, said on Tuesday, “is we lost the transportation.” 

Ms. Carabine’s husband, Brian Carabine, had been the organization’s primary transportation volunteer, having secured use of a van owned by the Veterans Administration, for which he worked, to take Maureen’s Haven clients to one of the participating houses of worship. When he retired, the use of the van was lost. 

Participants in the Maureen’s Haven program must undergo an intake session in Riverhead, so that their physical and mental health, and individual needs, can be determined, Ms. Gensler said. “We have to screen everybody, ensure they’re not drunk or high and are reasonably stable,” she said. “That is for safety’s sake — theirs and our volunteers’.” 

After that screening, people are transported to whatever house of worship is hosting them, she said. “Because East Hampton is far away, after guests came here, we’d give bus tickets to those we felt had the skill set that it would take to make sure they were going to show up, be reliable.” Clients would take a public bus to the East Hampton train station, where Mr. Carabine would be waiting with the van. 

“Unfortunately,” Ms. Gensler said, “public transportation is very poor on the East End, so it’s nearly impossible. I met with coordinators from each church last summer, and we came to the collective decision to not run the shelter for this season — not forever — until we could figure things out.” 

Another reason, she said, was that clients frequently failed to make the journey from Riverhead to East Hampton. “I would send, say, 10 people, and 7 would show up. Then you have 15 volunteers standing around, disappointed.” 

Because of the small number served, Ms. Carabine said, the participating churches and synagogue “began to feel it was not a good use of their limited resources. You spend the same amount for 3 as you do for 15, in some ways, as far as heat, electricity, cleaners.”

Volunteers in East Hampton had worked with Maureen’s Haven since 2009, Ms. Carabine said. “We had several people who were homeless for a myriad of reasons,” she said, referring to the Great Recession and a lack of affordable housing in the town, among other conditions. 

Anyone from the East End can head to Riverhead and be sheltered, Ms. Gensler emphasized. “That was part of the decision, too — we have the capacity to have them here. The second thing that is very important is that, when the temperature drops below 32 degrees, the police department has the right to forcibly take somebody and ensure they get sheltered. Further, the county shelter system must take them, regardless.”

But that, Ms. Carabine said, was not often going to happen. “Our local homeless people, six to eight people, will not get on the bus and go to Riverhead to check in to that network. They are basically sleeping rough.” 

Undocumented immigrants, she added, were vulnerable because they were often reluctant to interface with such services, for fear of attracting the attention of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. This, she said, could lead to tragedy. “In this extremely cold weather, it’s not good. We have worked with the police from the beginning. The police know where these folks tend to gravitate to, they have a fund for hot cocoa and coffee, and try to touch base with them once per night. But the reality is, when temperatures are terribly cold, maybe that won’t be enough.” 

“We are very sad about this,” Ms. Carabine said, “but we’ve come to an impasse. We are having meetings, discussing what we can do to offer services to these local people who are not going to change their ways. But we’re not sure at this point exactly what, if anything, we can do.”

“Nobody said we’re never doing this again,” Ms. Gensler said. “We’re trying to secure a van donation. That would be really helpful.”