A proposal that would have shut down a homeless shelter in the Hauppauge school district was voted down Tuesday by a Suffolk legislative committee after being tabled several times. The measure's sponsor, Legis. John M. Kennedy (R-Nesconset), says he will not reintroduce the resolution. Instead, he is talking to colleagues about taking a broader look at how homeless services are delivered in Suffolk. This is a positive development and one that is long overdue.
The controversy in Hauppauge has been simmering since children in the new shelter began attending district schools in September. Parents complained about the supposed unfair burden placed on Hauppauge -- a reaction that would have occurred in many other communities -- and worried about the potential consequences if more children in the large 96-family shelter chose to go to Hauppauge schools. But what was in many ways a classic NIMBY dispute missed the larger point: Suffolk County has a serious homelessness problem.
Fueled by the recession and superstorm Sandy, the number of children homeless at any point during a school year jumped from a little more than 3,000 in 2009-10 to nearly 5,000 last year. In response, the county decided to open two large shelters, one in the Hauppauge school district and another in Brentwood and de-emphasize its network of smaller scattered shelters. Both supporters and opponents make valid points about these large shelters. They are more cost-effective and offer better services for parents trying to find jobs and housing. But families in smaller shelters are less likely to be known as homeless and less likely to be stigmatized in the community.
A discussion of the broader philosophical issue of how best to help all of our homeless neighbors -- in essence, go big or go small -- would be far more productive than balkanized fights in which individual neighborhoods protest particular shelters and nobody wins.