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Churches reach out to homeless with donations

Homeless people are seen packing after police kicked

Homeless people are seen packing after police kicked them out of a wooded area where they had tents in Huntington Station. (Jan. 5, 2010) Credit: James Carbone

The Rev. Allan Ramirez preached twice Sunday - once to his regular congregation at Brookville Reformed Church in Brookville, then again to his other flock: a group of a dozen men who call the Huntington woods their home.

Ramirez loaded the back of his pickup truck with donated hats, scarves, coats and blankets, and brought them to the men, undocumented immigrants who live in huts they've made out of tarps and branches.

One man, an emigrant from Guatemala who has been living in the United States for 12 years and in the woods for several months, stood bareheaded in the cold when Ramirez pulled up. He was given two hats, and pulled both over his head, one after the other.

It had been quiet this weekend - no sign of police or the Town of Huntington, which last week tacked notices on the tents threatening the men with fines or imprisonment if they didn't leave.

Ramirez told the men about a flu shot clinic that he is coordinating with the Family Service League Tuesday, then blessed them all with the sign of the cross.

He said he has been getting dozens of calls from people wanting to help, and has received donated money and clothing for the men in the woods.

"A gentleman came yesterday, dropped off $500 and he said if you find any men who want to go back to their country and can't afford it, I can help. Another woman gave me a check for $150," Ramirez said. "People are responding."

It's just in time. Jan Brenner, Huntington Interfaith Homeless Initiative coordinator for the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Huntington, said participating churches in the initiative have had an influx of people seeking shelter.

>>VIDEO: Click here to see the in-depth story of how the homeless day laborers struggle in the woods to keep warm

"It is a lot this year because of the cold weather," she said, adding that her church was preparing for 25 guests last night, but would likely see more.

On the East End, Maureen's Haven - a program that provides overnight shelter and a meal at a rotating series of churches for people who are homeless - has hosted record numbers of people.

Last year, the program's highest number of people for one night was 62. This year, the program has seen as many as 82, said Denis Yuen, Maureen's Haven homeless outreach coordinator.

"We've been overwhelmed since November 1," Yuen said. "It's a very difficult winter all around."

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