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Hope House Ministries

Hope House Ministries celebration on April 22. Photos courtesy Carol Acker

By Samantha Rutt

For 44 years, Hope House Ministries has been a place for the broken and lost. 

Founded in the spirit of St. Louis de Montfort, what started as a neighborhood response to a neighborhood issue, has expanded its service area to include all of Long Island, New England and beyond. 

Hope House Ministries began in 1980 as a 10-bed facility providing crisis intervention for young men aged 16 to 21, and has since expanded to a multifaceted human service agency with housing, counseling and educational assistance for individuals and families in crisis.

On April 22, the ministry hosted a celebration at the Hope Academy at Little Portion Friary in Mount Sinai, featuring a service presided over by founder and executive director Father Frank Pizzarelli. Alumni, volunteers and several members of the community were in attendance. 

Hope House Ministries is located at 1 High St., Port Jefferson (www.hhm.org).

From left, PJSTCA President Ira Costell with Jessica Labia and Dwayne Brown of the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless. Photo by Aidan Johnson
By Aidan Johnson

The Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association addressed issues regarding the unhoused at its general meeting Tuesday, July 25.

The civic meeting was joined by Father Francis Pizzarelli, founder and executive director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson, as well as officers from the Suffolk County Police Department and members of an organization that helps the homeless 

During the meeting, Pizzarelli shared his experience assisting the homeless, including his meeting of a homeless Vietnam war veteran 35 years ago who was sleeping in a box village in the middle of winter.

The distraught veteran, who was most likely struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, came to Pizzarelli after one of his friends who was also living in the box village froze to death.

After finding there was little help offered for homeless veterans, Pizzarelli started Pax Christi Hospitality Center, an emergency shelter for men in Port Jefferson.

Pizzarelli expressed that a stronger partnership is needed between social services, the community and law enforcement. However, Pizzarelli also noted that law enforcement’s hands are tied in many situations, though they have always “been willing to be a part of the conversation.”

Pizzarelli highlighted the lack of treatment facilities and steps in place to help people in the homeless community.

“The social networking that was in place 35 years ago is nonexistent,” Pizzarelli said. “It’s just a repetitive cycle of setting people up for failure.”

For example, there is a lack of transitional housing for people once they leave a shelter such as Pax Christi, and the ones that are there, “you wouldn’t want a rat to live in,” he said.

A Suffolk County police officer spoke about what is and is not considered a crime when it comes to homelessness, and the role that the police can play.

“We’re not allowed to arrest people for being homeless, we’re not allowed to arrest people for begging,” the officer clarified.

“It used to be against the New York State Penal Law to stand in front of a business and beg. That was taken off the books, so what we’re left with is a [state] Vehicle and Traffic Law, because realistically, it’s not going to solve the problem, us arresting them at that specific moment,” the officer continued.

The officer said police can write a person a traffic ticket if they are on a road begging, which could possibly lead to a warrant and then an arrest, but reiterated the police cannot simply make an arrest for begging.

There are also laws in place that allow police to take a person into custody if they are deemed to be either a danger to themselves or others. However, the officer explained that the law’s threshold criteria is very high.

The police department has also put the Behavioral Health Unit to effect.

“We have these officers; they go out to these specific locations where the homeless people … are, and we try to attack it [by] offering them social services such as housing and drug counseling, and we hope that they will voluntarily take it,” the officer said.

Jessica Labia and Dwayne Brown of the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless were also in attendance to speak on issues. Labia furthered the point of the lack of resources, saying, “The more resources that are put into folks that are experiencing homelessness or low income on Long Island, the more we’re able to help them get into housing.”

She also suggested that arresting homeless people wasn’t helpful, as it can make it more difficult to house people when they have a criminal history.

Labia and Brown reminded everyone that homelessness was not just in the Port Jefferson Station area, but rather Long Island as a whole has between 3,000 and 4,000 homeless people on any given night.

La Buena Vida Restaurant, 714 Montauk Highway, Moriches will host the 6th annual Pig Roast fundraiser to benefit Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson on Wednesday, July 26 from 6 to 8:30 p.m. $30 donation per person includes dinner and soft drinks with a special musical performance by Damaged Goods. Reservations suggested by calling 631-909-1985.

Geoff, Bob, Karen and Patrick Engel at a previous Hoops for Hope event in memory of their family member. File photo by Kevin Redding

Hope House Ministries will host the 7th Annual Jake Engel Hoops for Hope Fundraiser at the Cedar Beach Basketball Court, 244 Harbor Beach Road in Mt. Sinai on Friday, July 28 from 4 to 8 p.m. with a 3v3 Basketball Tournament, food, music, basket prizes and raffles. All are welcome to enjoy a fun, exciting night. All proceeds to benefit Hope House Ministries. To register for the 3v3 tournament or for more information please call 631-473-8796 or email at [email protected]. 

Robert Neidig with William Harris at Hope House Ministries. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Port Jefferson Middle School student William Harris knew he wanted to help out his local community as part of his mitzvah project this month.

Harris — who turned 13 in September and was supposed to have his long-awaited bar mitzvah that month — had to postpone his ceremony and the festivities that come around it.

“Originally I was going to do a blood drive, because people needed donations for blood,” he said. “But I couldn’t do it with the pandemic.”

That’s when he decided to team up with his principal, Robert Neidig, to encourage his class-mates to donate food to the local nonprofit Hope House Ministries.  

“About a month ago, I made some flyers and I put them around the school,” William said. “We put it on the announcement every morning and people began bringing in food.”

Leza Di Bella, William’s mother, said he did this all by himself.

“He took the initiative,” she said. “Usually for these projects, parents are very involved. We were not at all.”

On Friday, June 11, he was joined at Hope House by his mother and father Richard, along with his school principal where he dropped off several dozen bags of food. Then after nearly nine months of waiting to celebrate this special day, his bar mitzvah was held at Temple Isaiah in Stony Brook on Saturday.

“I’m just so proud, not only of Will, but the respect that he has earned from his classmates. They would bring a can here and there and, as you can see, it all adds up,” Neidig said. “It’s all going to such a good cause I couldn’t be prouder. It’s a big time in his life and I’m happy that I could be a part of it.”

William said he’s not done with his donations yet. 

“I feel like I did a good thing now,” he said.

The Pax Christi Hospitality Center in Port Jefferson. Photo by Kyle Barr

The COVID-19 crisis has affected daily life for every resident, but it has especially created challenges for individuals seeking essential resources, and for the workers and volunteers who provide them. The ongoing health crisis has caused numerous facilities including homeless shelters and other nonprofit organizations to rethink how they operate for the time being. 

For Stephen Brazeau, director of Pax Christi Hospitality Center in Port Jefferson, it has been business as usual at the facility, with a few exceptions. 

“We’ve had an open-door policy at the center, but now we’ve locked the front door and have begun screening individuals who want to come in,” Brazeau said. “We usually have significant walk-in traffic and we’ve definitely seen a reduction in that.”

The director said they have seen anywhere from a 60-70 percent decrease in walk-ins. 

Currently, the hospitality center has a total of four staff members working with a few volunteers, compared to an additional 10 interns and 40-plus volunteers, due to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) executive order limiting operations. Brazeau said the center’s 24 beds are occupied, and for individuals they can’t accommodate they are trying to set them up with an official from the county’s department of social services. 

“We are doing our best to make sure these services and basic needs are continuing to be offered,” he said. “At the same time, we want our workers to be safe as well.”

In 2016, 3,960 individuals were deemed homeless on Long Island but more than half of those were children, according to a Long Island Coalition for the Homeless survey count. More than half of the surveyed homeless were children.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended homeless shelters minimize face-to-face staff interactions with clients, and limit visitors to the facility during the outbreak. 

The state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance said in a directive to shelter providers, “congregate facilities, such as shelters for individuals experiencing homelessness, are especially at risk for the spread of communicable diseases due to the number of individuals living in close proximity.”

Brazeau said he is also concerned about undocumented individuals who may need a place to stay as well as food.

“A few of the places that they go to for meals have closed, so we have tried to lead them to churches, schools and other places that are offering them,” the director said. 

For Celina Wilson, president of the Bridge of Hope Resource Center, she and her staff have had to adjust on the fly. Moving away from face-to-face interactions and meetings, they now try to do most of their work through phone calls and other technological means. 

“Even though we are limited in mobility, we are still able to help and advise our clients on a number of issues,” Wilson said. “We call them, text them, FaceTime them and we walk them through whatever they need help with.”

The Port Jefferson Station-based resource center provides a number of counseling, mentoring and education services. It is working on a graphic informational guide on the coronavirus that will be published on its website. In addition, the center will list other resources available on the Island like sites for mobile food distribution. 

“At this point we have to work together to get through this and keep people informed,” Wilson said.

Hope House Ministries

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

Fall is a wonderful time of year. On the North Shore, we are reminded of the beauty of the change of the seasons, by the tapestry of colors as the leaves change. This beauty is unfolding despite the horrific political landscape that is demeaning and reprehensible. Hope still lives.

The opiate epidemic continues to claim record numbers of lives from every walk of life, from every socioeconomic system. However, people do recover, reclaim their lives and become productive, contributing members of our community.

For more than three decades, I have lived among the most broken and wounded among us. I’ve been blessed to see human miracles every day. I have witnessed some inspiring human transformations that have strengthened my commitment to stay the course, especially when it has been difficult.

Every fall I think of the countless lives that have enriched me. I also painfully remember those lives that have fallen into the cracks. Their remembrance always challenges me to do more and to never lose hope or give up.

As I think back over the years, I remember different young men from each decade who remind me of why I do what I do. I think of what has become of these men. Each decade has a wonderful group of shining stars. The common denominator is each man was lost, overwhelmed and profoundly wounded. They had lost their way, but with a lot of support and love, they developed coping skills, not only to survive but also to change and transform their lives. They became extraordinary men. 

One young man who is now in his 50s is the father of three children. He lives in Wisconsin and is the executive director of a not-for-profit organization that services young people. He is active in his local church and works in youth ministry. Another young man from that decade is married with four children and is a practicing attorney for a large law firm in Chicago. 

Another young man lives locally with his wife and twin boys. He is a successful financial broker. He has given back for more than 20 years, anonymously dropping off pizza to the main house every Saturday for dinner. The present community only know him as the “Pizza Boy.”

This group of men from the 1980s refer to themselves as a band of brothers. They continue to connect with each other on a regular basis. Distance has never been an obstacle for connecting.

The 1990s saw the house grow in number with a new band of brothers — more lawyers, teachers, tradesmen and social workers. They all make sure that if they are in town to stop by, say thank you and urge the present community to stay the course and not lose hope.

One of the men from this decade who lives and works out of state recently stopped by with his wife of 15 years and their 12-year-old son. In front of myself and members of the present community he said, “This was and is my home where I learned how to love myself and love others and it will always be where my heart is!”

The men from the 2000s are doing great things. One is an author and a founder of a not-for-profit wellness center, another is a social worker in charge of a street outreach to the poor, while another is in law school on a scholarship. There is also a young man who discovered his gift for music performance who recently received a full scholarship to a local college. He and a band of brothers, through music and song, celebrate the message of hope through recovery and wellness on an ongoing basis within our larger community.

These are just some of the many stories of hope that have sustained me and encouraged me for almost 40 years. A very important part of the story is you — the community; without your love, support and encouragement none of this would be possible. For all of you, I am forever grateful.

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

Treatment centers often recommend that reformed users preserve their identity in the press. Their stories are more important than ever and one young woman wants people to know that, yes, it is possible to recover from opioid and alcohol addiction. Photo by Anonymous

I’m writing today to share some hope. In November, I will miraculously have been six years sober. I say it is a miracle because for the longest time I believed I was hopeless, and I thought I would never find any peace until I was dead. It sounds very harsh but that’s exactly where my addiction lead me. 

I come from a small town in Suffolk County. Growing up there was a lot of chaos to say the least. I always felt out of place, like something was missing, or that I just didn’t belong here. I was filled with so much fear, pain and anxiety that I could physically feel this emptiness inside of me. Like a pit in my stomach that never went away. I was left to my own devices and with no way to cope at 13 years old I found drugs and alcohol worked well for me. The second I put a substance in my body things changed. I was OK, I could breathe, I could go to school, I could have a conversation, I could do all the things my anxiety stopped me from doing. Most of all I felt peace, something that was foreign to me, but of course I wanted more. 

More, more, more. There were never enough drugs for me, I was like a bottomless pit. I would drink until I was throwing up and then drink some more. I wasn’t one of those dainty girls you would see holding a cute mixed drink, I was the one sniffing lines in the bathroom and chasing it with a bottle. It was always very clear to me that I partied harder than my friends. Getting high was my only real goal and nothing else mattered. At 15 I stumbled upon Vicodin. My friend had a prescription after getting her tooth extracted and shared it with me. From that moment on I didn’t want anything else, just that feeling one more time. 

After two days, between the both of us, the script was gone. Painkillers were my hero. No waiting for alcohol to kick in, no getting sloppy and not being able to walk or speak. No smell. I had finally found what I had been looking for, a way to conceal the fact that I was high all the time. From then on, I found a drug dealer with OC 80s [OxyContin 80 mg] and my happiness relied on him answering the phone.

One day before school — I think ninth grade — I could not get out of bed. My entire body ached, I was sweating, had the chills and I was throwing up. I had no idea what was going on. I called my friend. She asked if I was coming out and I said, “What?! I am so sick I can’t even move.” She replied, “You’re dope sick.” No one told me about this. So, I went outside, sniffed an OC 80 and, voilà, in two minutes I was fine. I had only been taking the pills for about one week before I became physically dependent. Now, I was not only emotionally and mentally dependent, but now my body relied on the pills physically. 

People think that using drugs and alcohol is a choice, and it may have been a choice the first time I used them, but after that I had no choice in the matter. Drugs were like oxygen. It wasn’t a want, it was a need. The truth is that this was the case for me even when I wasn’t sick. After a couple of attempts at getting sober, I found that even when my body wasn’t screaming at me for more, my mind was. I went to my first inpatient rehab at 15. Wanting to do the right thing wasn’t enough. My mother would beg and plead. My brother would cry, my sister would try to fight me physically every time I walked out the door. My boyfriend would break up with me. Nothing mattered. Nothing could stop me. I stopped going to school, I couldn’t hold a job, I couldn’t be in any relationship. My life completely evolved around getting high. 

Pills were expensive and at 16 it’s hard to make enough money to support a drug habit, especially when you’re dope sick half of the time. I learned that heroin was cheaper. What’s funny to me is when you say the word heroin, and everyone goes “O-o-h,” the same people that drink until they can’t walk and sniff lines in dirty bathrooms look at you crazy when you mention the word heroin. I wasn’t afraid of it. Not even for a second. I had my friend teach me how to mix it, filter it and shoot it. Less money and a quicker delivery. My life was already spiraling at a rapid rate so I thought, “How bad can this be?” 

I was not allowed in or near my family’s house, dropped out of school and my old friends wanted nothing to do with me. My life was a cycle of get money, get high, get sick, repeat. 

From ages 15 to 20, I had been to 10 inpatient facilities and had a couple of stays in the psych ward. Some inpatient stays were 21 days long; some were two months, some were three. The longest stay was six months. 

On my 18th birthday, I got on the methadone clinic program, thinking it would solve all my problems and it did for a little bit. My dad allowed me to live with him, I got my GED certificate, I got a job. But the thing is they wanted me to stop using other drugs in combination with the methadone and I wasn’t capable of that. Back to rehab I went — it was the worst detox ever. 

My life was out of control. I was a mess internally and externally. The drugs stopped working. I was restless, irritable and discontent with and without them. For two years, I lived my life thinking I was better off dead. I was done. There are no other words than “done.” I figured since I didn’t want to live anymore and I knew other people had gotten sober, I would go to rehab one last time. So off I went. The funny thing about me: Once I’m detoxed and feeling better, I think I don’t need to take anyone’s suggestions and that I know what’s best for me. I guess I like to learn things the hard way. So, I ignored the suggestion of going to a sober house, went home with the best intentions of being a good person of society and before I knew it, I was calling the drug dealer. 

Coming to … I was constantly coming to. “How in the world did I get here?” I would think over and over. That’s where the powerlessness comes in. I didn’t want to do what I was doing, but I didn’t know how not to. If it was as easy as “just stop” using my “willpower” I would have stopped a long time ago. No one wants to break the hearts of everyone who loves them. No one wants to steal, and lie, and manipulate. It’s like being in survival mode. So, I learned the hard way for about a year, ignoring suggestions and thinking, “I know what’s best,” and falling on my face over and over. 

It was November of 2013. Everything I owned, including my cat, was in the car of someone I was using with. Talk about wanting to die. So, for the 100th time, I was done. This time wasn’t really any different than any other time. I said I was done. I didn’t really think this time would be different. I just remember I prayed. Something really honest. Every rehab I called was full, no beds. For six days, I prayed to get a bed. I couldn’t go on. I prayed for God to help. I prayed to forget everything I thought I knew, I prayed for relief from this obsession, I prayed to be guided, I prayed to be really done this time, I prayed and said if this doesn’t work, please just let me die. On the sixth day, the rehab called me back and told me that they had a detox bed. When I went to the rehab, I was done thinking I knew what was best for me. I made it very clear numerous times that I obviously had no idea. I was listening to someone in recovery speak one day and she said, “I’m here to give you a message of hope and a promise of freedom.”

If you could see inside my head, you would see the light bulb. It finally hit me. I needed to listen to other recovered people and rely on their guidance. 

Today I pray to live, I am thankful I get to live this life. Today I am a daughter, a sister, a friend, a wife, a mother, an employee. Today I show up when life is good and when life is bad. Today I get to be present. Today life is a gift. I’m writing this article on my son’s fourth birthday. I’m getting it to the editor the day before the due date because even though I’m sober, I’m not perfect and I do procrastinate. But it just so happened that the day I finally got it done is my son’s birthday and I’m reminded again that every day is a gift. 

I am grateful that I took the suggestions that were given to me at the rehab: I went to the sober house, I went to the meetings, I listened to the people who came before me that have maintained their sobriety, and I prayed.

Every day I get to work with people like myself and today my life is about helping other people and giving back what was freely given to me. I’m writing today to tell you that we do recover, and there is hope. No one is hopeless. If you are struggling, please reach out for help because help is available, and miracles are real! 

Sincerely,

Someone who believes in you

 

Addiction recovery resources

Narcotics Anonymous Hotline

 631-689-6262

St. Charles Hospital Chemical Dependency Program

631-474-6233

Long Island Center for Recovery

 631-728-3100

Phoenix House

888-671-9392

Addiction Campuses

 631-461-1807

Nassau University Medical Center

516-572-0123

Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence

 631-979-1700

Eastern Long Island Hospital:

631-477-1000

Villa Veritas Foundation

845-626-3555

St Christopher’s Inn

845-335-1000

Seafield

800-448-4808

Hope House Ministries

631-928-2377

Family Service League

631-656-1020

Central Nassau Guidance and Counseling Services

516-396-2778

Talbot House

631-589-4144

Alcoholics Anonymous helpline

631-669-1124

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

800-273-8255

Local Link Wellness

631-909-4300

A DELICIOUS WAY TO GIVE BACK

The Pro-Port Restaurant Association, in cooperation with the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, hosted the second annual Spring Breakfast Crawl in the Village of Port Jefferson on March 23. The sold-out event, which gave participants the opportunity to sample breakfast at 15 shops and restaurants, raised $500 for Hope House Ministries. 

The charitable contribution fulfills one of the objectives for the group in addition to promoting the interests of the Port Jefferson food and beverage service industry. 

Pictured at the check presentation, from left, Tommy Schafer of both Harbor Grill and Tommy’s Place, Matt Murray of Barito Taco and Cocktails, Atsushi Nakagawa of Slurp Ramen, Steve Miller of Hope House Ministries, Joe Ciardullo of C’est Cheese, John Urbinati of The Fifth Season, Debra and Jerry Bowling of Pasta Pasta and Lisa Harris of both Prohibition Kitchen and East Main and Main.

At Hope Academy at Little Portion Friary in Mount Sinai, representatives from State Farm pass off keys to a Ford van to Charlie Russo to be used by Hope House Ministries. Photo by Alex Petroski

The private sector stepped up to help the helpers Aug. 3.

Through a program called Recycled Rides, which creates partners between insurance providers and auto-repair companies to repair and donate vehicles to those in need, a Ford E series van was donated to Port Jefferson-based Hope House Ministries during a ceremony held at its Mount Sinai location, Hope Academy at Little Portion Friary Friday. Recycled Rides is an initiative started about 10 years ago by the National Auto Body Council, a not-for-profit organization aimed at improving the image of collision industry professionals. In this case, ProLiner Rescue auto-repair shop in Medford and State Farm teamed up to facilitate the donation.

“We brought [ProLiner Rescue] the van, it was a mess,” said Steven Wisotsky, Metro New York Salvage Unit agent at State Farm.

Wisotsky said the vehicle had been stolen. When it was recovered and ultimately purchased by State Farm, it was missing parts, there was substantial damage to its body, and other mechanical work and a paint job were also needed. The repair shop did all the work free of charge.

Steven Wisotsky of State Farm with Charlie Russo of Hope House Ministries. Photo by Alex Petroski

“It’s phenomenal — we don’t have any federal funding or state funding, so for us, everything that we get is so appreciated,” said Charlie Russo, Hope House Ministry’s board chairman. “To have to go out and buy something like this, we can’t budget for. All of our money goes to direct services. It’s a phenomenal gift from this community, we receive so many gifts from this community. Just their support — emotional support, monetary support — and the amount of volunteers that come from our community, it’s just amazing.”

Russo said the van would be used to transport necessary supplies to and from the organization’s 10 facilities, which are dedicated to serving individuals in crisis on Long Island since 1980. The chairman said the van was much needed, though he mentioned Ramp Motors in Port Jefferson Station has also been generous in supplying Hope House with transportation-related needs in the past.

Brookhaven Town councilmembers, Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) and Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point), were among the elected officials in attendance to commend the companies for their generosity.