A Hampton Bays motel that for years provided low-income rentals is now sheltering Suffolk County's growing number of homeless families, a change that has upset some officials and local residents who said the county did not inform them of their plans.
Gregory Blass, Suffolk's commissioner for the Department of Social Services, confirmed that the two-story, 32-unit Hidden Cove Motel on West Tiana Road will now house homeless families with children, the fastest growing population of homeless in the area.
"We have approximately a dozen motels that we are using throughout Suffolk County, and Hidden Cove is one of them," Blass said recently, adding that the motel's rooms will be used only by families, mostly women with children.
Blass noted that it is the only county-run facility in the Town of Southampton.
Southampton Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said last week the town was not apprised of the changeover, and that it is displacing people already having trouble finding suitable housing in the high-rent area.
"This is exacerbating what is already a difficult issue of workforce housing," Throne-Holst said. "It's one group pushed aside for another group."
Blass says the department helped those who needed assistance in finding new housing.
The town is checking zoning regulations and is sending building inspectors to the site, to check on any safety or code violations, Throne-Holst said.
The waterfront motel has most recently been used as a privately rented property. Records show it was up for sale for $2.8 million in the fall, but has since been taken off the market.
"Nobody knew anything about it," said Gail Liner, a nearby resident. "They're not giving the community a chance to speak."
Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk) said he found a county law which limits the number of shelter families in any one place to 12, and he wants DSS to adhere to that number. About 10 families are living there now, he said.
But Blass said the agency is following the rules.
"We rely upon the Suffolk County attorney's opinion [of May 23, 2006] which echoes rulings from the state, that local law cannot hinder the sheltering of the homeless by DSS, which itself is an extension of the state in that function, so long as state health and safety rules are met, which they clearly are," Blass said in an emailed response.
But those working with the county to place the homeless said that Southampton has no homeless shelters, whether motels for families or single-adult facilities, as do other towns, and that the numbers of homeless are rising fast. On Nov. 15, the county sheltered 519 homeless families and 241 childless adults. On a similar November night in 2008, there were 291 families and 189 childless adults, according to Suffolk DSS.
"When do we get to the point where we say, 'How can we help these people?' and not 'How can we get them out?' " said Alexander Roberts, executive director of Community Housing Innovations Inc., which is contracted with the county to provide housing for the homeless.