Old Whalers May be Haven for Homeless


By Marianna Levine

Last Thursday, interim pastor James Cardone, of Sag Harbor’s First Presbyterian (Old Whalers’) Church gathered together members of various Sag Harbor religious congregations to discuss the possibility of hosting a Maureen’s Haven Shelter one night a week at his church.

A few weeks earlier, the East Hampton Methodist Church had called a similar meeting, to announce it was hosting the temporary shelter one night a week and to seek the aid — either financial or in service — of local churches in order to make Maureen’s Haven possible in East Hampton.

The East Hampton meeting was meant to call together congregations in East Hampton and Montauk, but it was the Sag Harbor community which really turned out in full force, leading Cardone to think perhaps his village could take on another night to house the homeless of the East End. He was prompted by the concern he had for the people he saw sleeping in the Old Burying Ground next to his church.

A dozen or so people came to the Sag Harbor meeting including representatives from Temple Adas Israel, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the South Fork, Christ Episcopal Church, and St. Andrew’s Catholic Church. Also in attendance was the Peconic Community Council’s executive director Peter Saros, PCC’s board chair Prudence Carabine, and Maureen’s Haven Program Director Dennis Yuen. The PCC is an umbrella organization founded in 1976 that oversees health and human service groups in eastern Suffolk County. 

Saros, Carabine, and Yuen distributed leaflets and offered a documentary about the program which buses homeless men and women, ages 18 and over, to local churches for temporary shelter. The purpose of the program is to provide the area’s homeless population with a hot meal, a warm shower, a bed, breakfast and perhaps some dignity to endure the cold winter months.

Carabine explained the program’s guests have three designated pick-up and screening areas — one in Greenport, another in Riverhead, and a third in Hampton Bays. East Hampton may become a new pickup point this fall.

The program uses paid, professional screeners who search for any harmful weapons or substances, as well as for inappropriate behavior. They also perform Breathalyzer tests on prospective clients for the safety of the volunteers as well as the other guests. 

“Most people are very nice, appropriate, and very thankful they have a place that is clean and safe to sleep in,” Carabine added.

Yuen said by building a program on the South Fork, the community would enable homeless people to stay locally and not have to go further west to find help. At the moment, homeless people in the Hamptons are having trouble getting transportation to the pick up points and therefore are sleeping in cars in parking lots or in the woods. He did say it would take a while to make the program successful. 

“The community needs to identify the people and build their trust,” said Yuen who cautioned the church might only have a few people coming in the beginning.

The program has been running at about 30 eastern Long Island churches (mainly on the North Fork) successfully since 2002, and is named for Sister Maureen Michael, a Dominican nursing sister who lived in Hampton Bays and provided care for the homeless.

The meeting at the Old Whalers’ Church ended with community members voicing concern about the logistics of hosting the program both in East Hampton and in Sag Harbor. Janet Grossman of Temple Adas Israel suggested all houses of worship try to fundraise over the summer when there are more resources to tap, and perhaps East Hampton and Sag Harbor could share resources such as air mattresses that could be carted back and forth.

Suzanne Preim of Christ Episcopal Church said their church is already committed to assisting the Methodist Church in East Hampton and wasn’t sure if there were enough resources in the community to support both efforts. However she did admit, “The Whalers’ Church has a lot of space and a lovely big kitchen to use.” 

“Homelessness can happen to anyone — many of us may be just a paycheck or relationship away from being homeless,” said Carabine who went on to explain that some of the people the program serves are actually holding jobs or are young college students turned out by their parents.