A Conversation With Prudence Carabine

A screen shot of the Maureen's Haven website, as seen on February 13.

Maureen’s Haven, the network of services and shelters for the homeless on the East End, recently ceased serving people in the East Hampton area. Prudence Carabine, the former Peconic Community Council board chair who coordinated efforts in East Hampton for Maureen’s Haven for many years, has put out the call for an organization or individual to step up and help out where the organization left off.

Are the needs among the homeless population on the East End changing?

Maureen’s Haven began about 18 years ago out of Riverhead under the auspices of Peconic Community Council. … We serviced 30 to 50 people a night through the church organizational group. About 30 churches were involved. It was the biggest volunteer army in Suffolk County, the whole network, and we were all feeling very good about ourselves because we were saving people’s lives. And then the economy began to pick up last year, and we weren’t seeing the poor homeless. We were seeing the hardcore homeless, in other words, the people, including the mentally ill or self-medicating, who had chosen homelessness as a lifestyle. The numbers were 10 to 18 a night until March when the numbers were dropping because people were going back to work, finding an apartment. Those who were capable of doing that were getting back into the swing of things. But some were not particularly good abiders by the rules — they didn’t like the process of having to go to Riverhead and check in. They would be difficult at times … and if they didn’t trust, it was a problem. And then we began to see, after Donald Trump was elected president, that the Hispanics weren’t coming forward. They weren’t putting their necks out for any social services to speak of. That was about 25 percent of our folks. The bottom line is our numbers went way down.

What other factors went into the changes to the Maureen’s Haven program in East Hampton?

The VFW [Veterans of Foreign Wars] had a van, so we borrowed the van on Fridays and Saturdays and picked up people all over town as well as at the train stations. … Last summer we were informed the van that we were borrowing from the VFW would no longer be available. We were beginning to think about purchasing a used van when we were informed by the network that we were no longer needed in East Hampton, that the homeless numbers had gone down to about 30 people a night and they no longer needed our support. We were upset because we honestly felt like we had been doing a great service.

Are there any aspects of the program that are remaining the same, east of Southampton, on the South Fork?

In Sag Harbor, because Temple Adas Israel can manage Sunday nights without any problems, it is still within the network occasionally. As far as I know they are doing what they did before. Anytime it was a Sunday or a holiday it was difficult for us to get volunteers. I don’t know how they get the people out here or back, and I don’t know how many of our local people are attending it.

But is the homeless problem really going away?

People have to know there’s a problem and understand there’s a complicated problem in order to understand we have to face it. It’s a human interest story of the most basic kind. People live or die based on what we do. It’s not some esoteric, wonderful thing. It’s life and death. I just felt I had to speak up and say, ‘We have a problem and no solution.’ There is a constituency that says, ‘Yeah, so?’ But there is a constituency that might say, ‘Let’s solve this problem, we have resources.’ I don’t know what else to do. We need help. We need a concerted outreach to Hispanic folks who need us. They can trust us. And we need a place for people who are homeless to go — warm, safe. Everybody deserves that.

What would be most helpful — for instance a facility, ideas, money?

All of the above. I am literally trying to move people’s hearts to come forward and do something. It’s complicated. It’s not an easy fix.