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Homeless Program Hit Hard By Sandy, Blizzard – Needs Help

Maureen's Haven lost a significant amount of private donations after Sandy and is struggling this season.

Maureen's Haven Executive Director Tracey Lutz with a homeless guest.
Maureen's Haven Executive Director Tracey Lutz with a homeless guest.
As the cold weather blankets the East End, many homeless men and women who have been living in tents in the woods look forward eagerly to November 1, the day when Maureen's Haven, a program that provides shelter and food to the needy, opens its doors.

But as Maureen's Haven enters its 11th year, the program, hit hard by Sandy and a blizzard last year, and facing an ever-increasing homeless population on the East End, needs help.

Tracey Lutz, executive director of the Maureen's Haven program, said donations of socks, gloves, coffee, powdered milk, instant soup, paper plates, utensils, cups, peanut butter, and bread for the day center are always welcomed.

In addition, gift cards for McDonald's and Dunkin' Donuts are also appreciated; the guests are cold and need coffee to warm up during the day, she said.

Lutz said the program has been hit hard by last year's storms and a flagging economy.

"We can't take as many people this year as our resources are stretched to the limit. We lost revenue when Sandy hit as funds were diverted to the relief effort, and then, the blizzard increased our costs because we had to shelter so many people for over 48 hours at the Grange in Riverhead."  

She added, "The homeless population continues to rise in Suffolk County with no end in sight — and there just isn't enough funding to meet the demand."

Dwayne Wagner, chairman of the Maureen's Haven board — Maureen's Haven operates under the auspices of Peconic Community Council in Riverhead — came before the Riverhead Town board on Wednesday to ask for continued support.

Wagner was one of many who came from local not-for-profit organizations to beseech the town to continue with critical funding through the Community Development Block Grant program.

During the winter months — Maureen's Haven is open from Nov. 1 through April 1 — 32 houses of worship participate, offering a total of 5433 beds to the homeless, Wagner said.

Last year, he said, 312 homeless individuals were able to find warm food and shelter, including dinner, breakfast, and a packed lunch for the next day; the homeless, Wagner said, are screened for drugs and alcohol before arriving at the churches. 

Maureen's Haven, Wagner said, has continued to help the area's homeless even during the summer months, with a drop-in center where they can look for work and housing and enhance job skills.

"We help to empower the homeless and help them to become independent and self-sufficient," Wagner said. "We're very proud of our program."

For example, Wagner pointed to two homeless individuals Maureen's Haven helped last year: Henry, 77, a Maureen's Haven guest who suffers from dementia and had no family or support system, was brought to a secure adult day care program for adults with Alzheimer's by Maureen's Haven staff.

Susan, a homeless woman who had suffered from "severe depression" after her adult child died, was a frequent Maureen's Haven guest. "Our volunteers and staff helped to get her back on her feet, and now, she's got a job and living independently," he said.

Wagner asked the Riverhead town board for $10,000. "In light of the economy, and the fallout from Superstorm Sandy, individual fundraising has suffered," he said.

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