A viral video of a lewd act in public and rumors about a large-scale new development project are probably why most attended the meeting, but emotions set the tone.
Anger, passion, fear and compassion flowed like a river during a nearly three-hour meeting of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association at the Comsewogue Public Library May 22. It was the civic’s scheduled meeting for May, but the regular members acknowledged this was an out-of-the-ordinary community gathering.
Earlier this month, a cellphone video of two people, believed to be homeless, having sex at a Suffolk County bus stop in Port Jefferson Station spread not only across the community, but the country. As a result of that incident, and in an effort to ascertain the facts about an announcement made by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) office May 10 that he was allocating about $8 million in funding for a large-scale affordable housing apartment complex for the homeless in Port Jeff Station, the civic association invited leaders from across local government to attend and field resident questions and concerns.
“This is how it starts,” civic association President Edward Garboski said at one point during the meeting, as tensions rose among the approximately 200 people who crammed into The Richard Lusak Community Room at the library. “None of these people are going to give you a solution to this problem tonight. Most of the people in this room have never been to a civic meeting. This is how it starts. We invited all these people here. They’re going to hear us speak. We continue to fight — together.”
“None of these people are going to give you a solution to this problem tonight. Most of the people in this room have never been to a civic meeting. This is how it starts.
— Edward Garboski
The discussion began with Suffolk County Department of Social Services Commissioner John O’Neill answering questions for about an hour. O’Neill was pressed with questions about the concentration of shelters for the homeless in the Port Jefferson Station area, oversight of the locations and curfew rules, and how the locations are selected. He said it was against the law to publicize the location of homeless shelters, though he said if he were legally allowed he would compile a list by zip code. He said the shelters in most cases are privately owned, and if they are compliant with state and federal regulations, they are approved with no consideration taken regarding volume of like facilities in the area. O’Neill also said checks are done regularly at all county shelters to ensure they are in compliance with regulations.
“The argument with the homeless is they need help, we know this,” PJS/TCA Vice President Sal Pitti said. “Everybody here in one way, shape or form has collected food, done something for a homeless individual. I think our biggest issue is the lack of supervision at these locations.”
Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Suffolk County Police Department 6th Precinct Inspector Patrick Reilly also attended the meeting and fielded questions from the attendees.
“I live in Port Jefferson Station as well, so I’m not coming from another community saying ‘Oh, it’s not that bad,’” Cartright said. “I love where I live, but there are issues and we need to deal with them. It’s a complex
issue and it doesn’t happen overnight. We are committed — I can say that for each of us that are sitting here today — to trying to make a difference and coming up with solutions.”
One suggestion that emerged from the meeting is the necessity for a 24-hour hotline to contact the county DSS when issues occur in the community. Currently the hotline only operates during business hours. Reilly said he believes a viable answer to reduce crime in the area, especially in the vicinity of Jefferson Shopping Plaza, would be the installation of more police surveillance cameras. Residents were also repeatedly urged to call the police when observing illegal activities, and to stay engaged with civic association efforts to foster a strength-in-numbers approach.
Many of the elected officials said they plan to be back at the association’s next meeting July 24 to unveil plans for revitalization in the area near the Port Jefferson Long Island Rail Road station.