Residents raise questions about homeless children in school

Hauppauge residents' concerns about a homeless shelter that Hauppauge residents' concerns about a homeless shelter that has added 10 children to a district school are prompting a Suffolk lawmaker to push for legislation to end the county's agreement with the shelter. (Oct. 9, 2013) Photo Credit: Johnny Milano

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Hauppauge residents' concerns about a homeless shelter that has added 10 children to a district school are prompting a Suffolk lawmaker to push for legislation to end the county's agreement with the shelter.

About 100 residents packed a public forum Wednesday night to air questions about the addition of the new students -- which they called an influx -- enrolling in the school district after moving into the newly established shelter.

"We do care about the children, everybody cares about the children, but we also care about our own children," Hauppauge parent Anna Niola said at the meeting in the legislative building's auditorium, sponsored by Legis. John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset). "We're not here to put down the homeless or anyone else."

But many residents said the district should have informed parents about the situation before the school year started. They also had questions about the financial burden the homeless children's enrollment would bring the district, on top of other current costs.

Kennedy, the legislature's minority leader, said Thursday that he has filed a resolution to terminate the county's agreement with Community Housing Innovations because the shelter is housing 96 families, more than the county code's limit of 12 families per homeless-shelter location. He said his resolution seeks to adhere to that limit.

"I would say it's not fair to the communities, it's not fair to the districts, and most importantly I'd say it's not fair to the homeless folks themselves," Kennedy said. "I don't believe they want to be warehoused."

County spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter, however, pointed to a 2012 letter from the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance that said state requirements to shelter the homeless supersede local law. The state office issued its opinion in 2000, the year Suffolk enacted its law to limit the number of families who could live in one shelter location.

At the forum, some worried that negative reactions to the shelter had cast the community in a bad light, and they encouraged their neighbors to rally around the new students.

"I have raised six children in this school district, all of them adopted, all of them from homes that were experiencing the same issues that I'm sure many of these children are experiencing," Pat Lesser said. "They are children. They need to be educated."

Shelter resident and parent Zenobia Richardson said the circumstances of becoming homeless sometimes are beyond a person's control, and she feels lucky her children are attending Hauppauge schools, which she called "wonderful."

"Unfortunately, because of my circumstances I ended up in the shelter," Richardson said. "It wasn't a choice -- it had to be done to protect my family, so that our children can be protected and get the best education."

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