Kimathi Witt, 41, was homeless until Medford-based Concern for Independent...

Kimathi Witt, 41, was homeless until Medford-based Concern for Independent Living helped him move into permanent housing. (Feb. 7, 2011) Credit: Ed Betz

Long Island's homeless-service providers see one bright spot in this cold, snowy winter: the federal government promising just over $11.2 million for programs to move people into permanent housing.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funding announced Monday it renewed grants to 75 programs run by nonprofits and Nassau and Suffolk counties. The grants will help 2,700 program participants, said Greta Guarton, executive director of the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless.

Kimathi Witt, 41, credits one of those programs, Medford-based Concern for Independent Living, with helping him move into permanent housing.

Witt said he's been homeless on and off "for many years," but has been living in Port Jefferson with the help of the group for about six months and attends Suffolk Community College.

"When you're living good, time flies," he said.

The $11.2 million in grants represents part of the $165 million in HUD money targeted for homelessness treatment and prevention in New York, Adolfo Carrión, the agency's regional director, said during a news conference announcing the funding.

Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) said the money was a good investment during an economic slowdown.

"We have homelessness in this community, and we cannot turn our backs on people who are homeless, nor can we turn them back on the streets," Israel said. "This $11 million is the best investment that we can afford. It is the best money that we can spend."

The news comes as Long Island's homeless shelters have seen an increase in the number of people turning to them for help. Nassau County has seen a threefold increase in demand for its Warm Bed emergency shelter program and Suffolk County has had to house homeless families in motels because all of its 52 shelters are full, officials have said.

While HUD statistics indicate about 3,000 homeless people on Long Island, Carrión allowed that the number is likely larger; Guarton's group serves about 5,000 people, Carrión said.

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