COMMACK - A Commack homeless shelter that provides emergency housing for families with no place to go is under scrutiny from local residents who want to see the facility shuttered.
The shelter is within a building that was formerly a hotel. Some local officials say it's in violation of county code, which states that shelters are to be limited to 12 families. The Commack shelter currently houses nearly 100 needy families, mostly those who've been affected by Sandy or the economic downturn.
Residents argue that it's putting undue strain on the community. Droves of local citizens turned out for today's county Legislature meeting to back a resolution by Legislator John Kennedy that would terminate the county's contact with the shelter's operator, Community Housing Initiatives.
Residents argue that the shelter is putting a burden on taxes, police and public schools. "It's not fair to take these homeless children, concentrate them in one school district and have them overcrowd schools," says Smithtown resident Larry Crafa. "They will not be able to learn effectively, nor will our children."
Advocates for the homeless say the overcrowding situation is indicative of the need for more affordable, permanent housing in Suffolk. "Residents need to recognize that these families need a home, and right now, this is their home," says Greta Guarton, the executive director of the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless.
County Executive Steve Bellone's office adds that the shelter is operating legally under state law.
Dawn Lissenden is among those staying in a cramped room at the Commack shelter. The single mother of two wound up homeless after Sandy destroyed her house and she lost her job.
She says she has but one wish for the holidays. "Christmas is coming, and I want a home for me and my kids,” she says.