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In frigid weather, volunteers tally LI's homeless

Greta Guarton, right, executive director of The Long

Greta Guarton, right, executive director of The Long Island Coalition for the Homeless, talks to Terry C., left, of Rockville Centre, as she conducts their annual homeless census count. (Jan. 22, 2014) Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

Dozens of volunteers trudged through snow in single-digit weather Wednesday to locate homeless Nassau and Suffolk residents as part of an annual census of the homeless conducted for the federal government.

About 40 volunteers with the Garden City-based Long Island Coalition for the Homeless spent the day knocking on doors of abandoned homes, checking Long Island Rail Road stations and surveying parks to identify homeless residents who are living on the streets and not in county shelters.

Results of the survey of about 330 sites known as gathering points for the homeless will be reported to the U.S. Office of Housing and Urban Development. The agency uses the data in part for grants to counties for homeless and affordable housing programs, said Greta Guarton, executive director of the coalition that organized Wednesday's census. Last year, Long Island received $12 million for such programs from HUD, Guarton said.

"The biggest reason for homelessness on Long Island is lack of affordable housing," Guarton said as she drove through a West Hempstead neighborhood in search of homeless residents. "It's not necessarily a problem that's exclusive to the homeless; there are professionals and young people out there who can't find affordable housing . . . families are getting priced out of the housing system."

Wednesday's tally won't be available until March, but last year's count located 117 individuals living on the streets on Long Island, and another 1,551 living in county shelters. Guarton said the actual number of homeless residents living on the streets may be much higher, but federal regulations ban the group from counting anyone who does not admit to being homeless when asked.

Some homeless residents are not willing to provide their status, fearing that volunteers may be law enforcement authorities, Guarton said.

A 44-year-old man who identified himself as Terry C. was at the Rockville Centre LIRR station Wednesday, carrying a blue duffel bag and drinking a cup of coffee.

He said he grew up in Rockville Centre and has been homeless for the past three years after a back and neck injury forced him to leave his job as a truck driver. He collects about $700 a month in disability payments, but he said it's often not enough for housing and food. He said he has applied for affordable housing programs through various social service agencies but has not been successful.

Asked where he spent Monday night's snowstorm, he replied: "The Babylon line."

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