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Bill would shelter homeless kids near their schools

The Suffolk Social Services Department would be required to place homeless families with school-aged children in shelters closest to their original school district, under legislation introduced Monday by Legis. DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville).

Gregory, chairman of the Human Services Committee, introduced the measure during a committee hearing, saying his office had received calls from Wyandanch residents who had been placed in a Commack shelter, some eight miles from their children's' schools.

"There are instances that I'm aware of when children were being shipped out of communities when there were available beds, available shelters, in the local community," Gregory said in Hauppauge. "It's where their support network is. It just provides a bit more stability for the family and the children."

Acting Social Services Commissioner John O'Neill said at the meeting that social services already has a policy stating that school districts should be a factor in family placements. But O'Neill acknowledged that when the county started contracting out services at larger shelters in 2011, the policy may not have been adhered to closely.

"It was a policy of the department to do that," O'Neill said of placing families based on school district. "They had trouble following it when they went to a larger shelter that they were filling . . . Again, the department will always look to put families in their home district."

Gregory said the legislation was needed to ensure "it would be the law that they place them first according to school district . . . They should be looking first at shelters and accommodation in the local school district."

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