Residents protest new homeless shelter in Hauppauge

Suffolk Legis. John M. Kennedy wants the county Suffolk Legis. John M. Kennedy wants the county to cancel its contract with the operator of 96-family shelter in Hauppauge. Photo Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

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Dozens of Hauppauge residents vented their anger on Friday to Suffolk lawmakers over a new large homeless shelter in their community, saying they are being burdened with a disproportionate number of the county's transient population.

But the county legislature's Human Services Committee -- after debating the issue for two hours -- sent the crowd home unhappy after tabling a bill that would have canceled Suffolk's contract with the nonprofit operating the 96-family shelter.

"I don't want to hear the 'NIMBY' mentality," said Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley), referring to the acronym for "Not In My Backyard," meaning those who protest change to their neighborhoods. "Everyone has it [the issue of homeless in their community]."

Browning's comments came after numerous speakers complained that the Hauppauge shelter, which can house hundreds of people at a time, opened with no notice to residents and was straining their schools, increasing the risk of program cuts to pay for educating the additional students.

Hauppauge schools added five homeless students over the summer, officials said, after serving 19 last year. Any children in the new shelter -- many of whom have stayed at their prior districts -- by law may enroll locally at any time.

"We are not asking to not help the homeless. We are asking to do our fair share," said Smithtown resident Lawrence Crafa, echoing many speakers.

A 76-family shelter has long been run in Bellport, Browning's district, and the legislator agreed that capacity in Hauppauge is "fairly excessive." Until recently, Suffolk largely split its homeless families, 565 at last count, among many smaller shelters.

The Social Services Department now seeks to put more homeless families under one roof, saying it saves money and offers added services, such as child care. It has opened the Hauppauge shelter and one of a similar size at an old Brentwood hotel, two miles away.

Legis. John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset), who sponsored the tabled bill, said county law limits shelters to no more than 12 families, and allows no more than four shelters, or 48 families, within a two-mile radius.

He noted that the Hauppauge and Brentwood shelters could house 379 families in all.

"Our policy has been to support smaller, community-based shelters," Kennedy said. "This is a radical policy shift undertaken by the administration, and was never brought to us."

County Attorney Dennis Brown said the code cited by Kennedy may not be enforceable because the state has ruled local laws can't be used as "obstacles" to counties providing mandated emergency housing.

Acting Social Services Commissioner John O'Neill said Suffolk hasn't closed small shelters but has needed to expand because of a spike in homeless families from 431 in 2011 to 565 now. "This is the hand we've been dealt," O'Neill said.

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