Maureen’s Haven’s new day center just what some have been looking for

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Melissa Barrington, 31, of Riverhead broke down in tears as she told her story of becoming homeless to a reporter at the grand opening at the center last Thursday.

“I don’t want to be alone,” said 31-year-old Melissa Barrington. “Each day I wake up and it’s just me. It’s hard.”

Ms. Barrington is a client of Maureen’s Haven Homeless Outreach program, a Riverhead-based nonprofit organization that feeds, clothes and shelters homeless adults across the East End.

She came to Maureen’s Haven when difficulties with transportation and toting around her possessions prevented her from finishing her college degree. Despite the warm weather this winter, she said, “it’s still too cold to sleep in the car,” so she’s opted to stay with Maureen’s Haven until she can get back on her feet.

The organization, now celebrating its 10th year, has a brand-new day center on Lincoln Street that’s been a boon for those who, like Ms. Barrington, have nowhere to go during the day. She said she’s thankful for the food, the warmth of the building and, most important, the sense of community that Maureen’s Haven has offered her. The program, founded by East End nun Sister Maureen, who has since died, also has 15 host congregations on the East End.

Clients are transported to and from these churches for evening meals, hot showers, fresh clothes and a place to sleep.

Maureen’s Haven officials held a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new day center last week.

“We were on East Main Street in an office complex that just wasn’t suited to our needs,” said the group’s executive director, Tracey Lutz. “We needed some open space.”

She said landlord Cynthia Fellows has been helpful to the organization, even putting “a partial kitchen in the back so our guests can prepare food or have coffee.” The new center is about a block away from Riverhead’s train station, Ms. Lutz said, making it more convenient for guests to access the buses that take them to and from host congregations in the morning and evenings.

She said screening clients for alcohol, drugs or weapons has also become easier. Before the day center, screening was done at the railroad station.

“With 40 or more homeless adults with all their bags and their stuff, it wasn’t really the most conducive way to do the screenings — and not very dignified. From a personal perspective, it was also very difficult for a staff person to screen people in the harsh weather, especially when people’s behavior might get a little more intense waiting to get screened after spending all day in the elements,” Ms. Lutz said.

But Maureen’s Haven is not just about getting fed and staying warm in the winter, said Ms. Barrington, who was on hand at the ribbon-cutting to talk about the work the organization does for people like her.

Among the programs offered at the new day center are Spanish and English computer skills, yoga, employment assistance, job coaching and even support groups, which have become important to Ms. Barrington.

“I really don’t even talk to that many people because I don’t have a lot of friends,” she said. “I realized I started trusting in all the wrong people, letting people know my business and all it did was backfire in my face because they really didn’t care about me. Here, it’s different.”

Ms. Barrington said the women’s support group, led by board vice chairperson Joann Piche, is “awesome.”

“It’s not structured like other groups, where you’re forced to talk about a specific subject. It’s more of a free-for-all,” she said, adding the group has fostered a sense of community among its participants. “They say three heads are bigger than one and I feel like if people pull together instead of pulling apart, it’ll be a lot better,” she said.

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