John’s Place and Maureen’s Haven are programs whose main objectives are to help the homeless. In the winter months, these nonprofits work with various churches across the East End to provide dinner, a place to shower, a safe environment to sleep in overnight and a place to receive a bagged lunch for the next day.
In the spirit of devoting my time to a good cause, I got involved with the homeless two years ago at the Mattituck Presbyterian Church.
My first night there, I didn’t know what to expect. At 6 p.m., a bus carrying perhaps 50 to 60 people arrived, each one coming from a different walk in life. When I looked at these people, some looked scared — not knowing what to expect or how they would be treated. My heart broke.
“My God,” I said to myself. “This shouldn’t be all these people have in life.”
As the line proceeded to walk into Mattituck Presbyterian, each person picked up their shower and bedding ticket. Then they finally reached me. I kissed and hugged every single person in line. God was in my heart and I hoped they would feel that too.
As the night progressed, I spoke to as many of the homeless as I could. I developed a friendship with them that since has turned into my loving them.
At the end of March, the program ended for the season. Churches will no longer house these people until next winter. They’ll be given tents to sleep in wherever they can, often in the woods. Some will pick cans and food out of the garbage.
It’s an inhumane way to live.
I spoke with a couple of the men recently and asked for their life stories. Robert was in his early 30s when he lost his last surviving family member. He never married, so he was alone. He worked in retail but was laid off due to the recession.
He had no savings, so he did some painting and rented a room where he said his landlord took his DSS money and also asked for his food stamps. Robert slept on the floor while his roommates used crack cocaine and other drugs on a daily basis. Eventually, fed up, Robert ended up in a homeless shelter in Port Jefferson. They were able to house him for a limited time, but then he found Maureen’s Haven and John’s Place.
Robert said he feels very blessed to sleep in a safe place where he doesn’t have to worry about being jumped or hurt. But his biggest fear is never getting out of the situation.
It appears to me that Robert is intelligent and employable due to his experience in retail, deli work and the Dollar Tree. And while many may have joined in when living in a room surrounded by drug users, Robert fled the situation.
Adam is another man I spoke with recently. A Vietnam veteran and Marine, he said that while he was in the military, he became addicted to alcohol and drugs, eventually coming home to a failed marriage. It wasn’t long before he was homeless, he said. While his drinking continued for quite some time, he no longer drinks or does drugs, attends church every Sunday and now feels God has saved him. I found Adam to be a good person who could do much better if he had a job and a place to stay. He served our country for us and now it’s our turn to help him.
These people need jobs and an opportunity to get ahead in life. Transportation is difficult since they have to walk everywhere to get food and shelter, let alone a job.
I would like to see local homeless programs extended at least until the end of April, when the weather is warmer. I would also like to see more people open their hearts to the homeless.
To our local business owners: Please consider hiring a homeless person and giving them a chance. And to everyone else reading: Please remember those who need a roof over their heads have dignity as well. They have a history just like you and me and they are human beings who think, feel and have emotions, just like us.
Jean Cooper is a lifelong Mattituck resident and graduate of Mattituck High School. She still lives in town with her husband, son and daughter.