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Pax Christi

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Bob Rodriguez and Wesam Hassanin, front left and right, the owners of Po'Boy Brewery in Port Jeff Station, started a drive to deliver bags of goods to Pax Christi. Photo by David Luces

Wesam Hassanin, bar manager at Po’Boy Brewery in Port Jefferson Station, had an idea to bring community members together for a good cause. 

“I wanted people to come out for something positive,” she said. 

Volunteers at the Po’Boy Brewery in Port Jeff Station pack boxes of food and other supplies for Pax Christi Hospitality Center in Port Jefferson, which has numerous services for the homeless. Photo by David Luces

The process began at the end of 2019, when Hassanin began spreading the word of what she had planned on social media and to local business owners. Her project was to create 100 blessing bags for the homeless. Over the past two months, Hassanin and others purchased a number of essential items to pack in the bags. 

“I didn’t expect this, I think I posted once or twice about it on social media and we literally had everything we needed for the bags probably within three weeks,” she said. “I can’t believe the amount of responses we got.”

On Feb. 16, close to 30 people came out to assemble and pack bags at the brewery and send them to Pax Christi Hospitality Center in Port Jefferson. Among those who came out to help were customers, family members, friends and fellow business owners. 

“I wanted to help local men and women in need, I reached out to [Pax Christi] and they said they could ‘definitely’ use the blessing bags,” she said. 

Rebecca Kassay, who runs the Fox and Owl Inn in Port Jefferson, praised Hassanin for her efforts to bring people together and help make a difference in the community. 

“It’s pretty incredible to see so many people in the community come together — it makes you want to do more of this,” she said. “I didn’t know what to expect, if two or three people tried to do the same effort, it would have taken all day. With the amount of people we had, it took 45 minutes.”  

Kassay stressed the importance of extending a helping hand to others. 

“I want to be someone as a resident, a business owner, who says what can I do to help these problems,” she said. “If I make these causes [in the community], I want to be a part of it.” 

The owner of the inn said this event motivated her to do more. 

Volunteers at Po’Boy Brewery helped donate 100 “Blessing Bags” to Pax Christi. Photo by David Luces

“I volunteer at Hope House, so this inspires me to reach out to them more often,”
Kassay said. 

Bob Rodriquez, owner of the brewery and Hassanin’s husband, was proud of her efforts to help the less fortunate. 

“All the kudos goes to her,” he said. “She approached me with the idea and I said, ‘Let’s do it’ … We really have her to thank for setting this up and the homeless people [at Pax Christi] will have her to thank for the bags.” 

Hassanin said she is already considering what she can do next to give back. 

“I wanted to do more [bags] but I didn’t want to get over my head, we thought 100 bags was a good number,” she said. “Maybe the next time we do this we’ll do more.”

The bar manager of the brewery said she hopes this will encourage others to pay it forward and give back. 

“It means so much that they all came out to help out, we couldn’t have done it without them, Hassanin said. “I want this to motivate other people to do something similar and wanted to show its possible to do something like this.”

Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) and PJ Village trustee, Kathianne Snaden, at the town’s Quality of Life Task Force’s first public meeting Dec. 17. Photo by Kyle Barr

As members of the Brookhaven Town’s Quality of Life Task Force walked in to the Comsewogue Public Library Dec. 17, looking to talk about the homeless issue, they were each greeted with a poignant reminder, a shopping cart laden with items, of containers and blankets, sitting in a handicapped space closest to the library’s main doors.

At the area surrounding the railroad tracks in the Port Jefferson area, men and women sleep outside even as the months grow colder. They sleep on benches and on the stoops of dilapidated buildings. Village code enforcement and Suffolk County police have said they know many of them by name, and services for them have been around, in some cases, for decades.

Still, homelessness in the Upper Port and Port Jefferson Station area continues to be an issue that has vexed local municipalities. On both sides of the railroad tracks, along Route 25A, also known as Main Street, residents constantly complain of seeing people sleeping on the stoops of vacant buildings.

But beyond a poor sight, the issue, officials said is multipronged. Dealing with it humanely, especially getting people services, remains complicated, while an all-encompassing, effective solution would require new efforts on every level of government.

Phase two of the task force, officials said, will mean coming out with a full report that includes recommendations, to be released sometime in 2020. Likely, it will come in the form of proposed state legislation regarding access to sober homes, bills to allow assistance in homeless transport, increased sharing of information between departments and municipalities, increased law enforcement activity, and revitalization efforts by both village and town while concurrently tackling quality of life issues.

Efforts by the town

At the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association meeting Dec. 17, members of the town’s task force, along with other local legislators, talked with residents about their findings.

The task force came into its own last year after a video of two homeless people having a sexual encounter on a bench in Port Jeff Station exploded in community social media groups like a bag of popcorn heated over a jet engine. The task force has brought together town, police, village, county and other nonprofit advocacy groups to the table, looking to hash out an effective response.

Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said much of the first phase of the task force has been collecting data, although some items still remain up in the air. Vincent Rothaar, of Suffolk County’s Department of Social Services, said there have been approximately 48 street homeless, but he was not sure if that was 48 outreaches to a single individual multiple times.

That is not to say the homeless population in the town’s District 1 and PJ Village is stagnant. Much of them are transient homeless, said PJS/T civic president, Sal Pitti, who is an ex-city police officer. Especially since Port Jeff contains the LIRR Station, those who sleep under a tent one morning may be gone the next day.

“It’s not just an issue that’s affected District 1, it’s an issue that’s affected the entire town, is affecting the entire county” Cartright said. “A lot of the legislation we’re putting forward is not just affecting District 1.”

“It’s not just an issue that’s affected District 1, it’s an issue that’s affected the entire town, is affecting the entire county”

– Valerie Cartright

Cartright has said that several months ago she stood out by the side of the road with a homeless couple that after weeks of talks and persuading finally agreed to go into a Suffolk County housing program. The county had called a cab to pick up the couple, and the councilwoman described how the people had to figure out what they were going to bring with them, going down from several bags between them to one bag a piece.

After calling the cab company, Cartright said the car had apparently got turned around, thinking they were in Port Jefferson instead of Port Jefferson Station. To get the homeless couple their ride, she had to make Suffolk County call up the company again.

Cartright has made efforts to use town-owned buses to help transport homeless individuals in emergency situations but was stymied by other members of the Town Board and officials in the county executive’s office, who said it was both unnecessary and not in the town’s purview.

Rothaar said DSS, especially its recently hired director Frances Pierre, would not dismiss any offer from any municipality of additional transportation services.

“We’re up to working with any government entity for the transport of a homeless person to one of our shelters,” he said. “We’re adamant of not just working with the Town of Brookhaven, but working with every municipality in Suffolk County.”

County offers more collaboration

The difficulty comes in trying to get services for the homeless population comes down to two things, officials said. One is the individual’s or group’s willingness to be helped, the other is the way the county manages the homeless person once they make it into the system.

The difficulty is enormous. Cartright said she has personally talked to individuals multiple times over a year before they even give a hint of wanting to be put in the system.

COPE officer for the Suffolk County police 6th Precinct, Casey Hines Berry, said the police have stepped up foot and bike patrols in the station area, the village and the Greenway Trail, along with talking to increasing communication with local businesses and shelters such as Pax Christi.

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

“As we were able to determine who were the individuals committing crimes, we could determine who were the individuals who need housing, who have housing, who are refusing housing,” Berry said. “We did this by collaborating all our different resources within the community.”

She said there have been more arrests, specifically 362 from May 2018 to current date, compared to 245 from the previous time period. The disparity of those numbers she attributed to warrants identifying more people in the area who may be wanted for previous citations, especially in quality of life matters such as public urination or open containers. She added there is no gang activity in Port Jefferson Station, only gang-affiliated people living in the area. In May this year, police arrested one young man of Port Jeff Station for an alleged conspiracy to murder two others in Huntington Station.

But police are not allowed to simply arrest people who may be “loitering” on the street without due cause, she said. If a person is standing on private property, it’s up to the owner to call police to ask them for help getting them to move on. In cases where homeless may be living on property such as the LIPA-owned right-of-way, it’s up to that body to request help removing them.

Police know many of the stationary homeless on a first name basis. Getting them to come in to an emergency shelter or through DSS systems is the difficult part. Many, officials said, simply have difficulty trusting the system — or can’t — such as the case when a homeless, nonmarried couple cannot go into services together and would rather stay together than be separated and have help.

Rothaar said the DSS offers much more than emergency housing, including medical assistance, financial services, along with child and adult protective services.

He said department workers often go out to meet homeless individuals over and over. Each time they may bring a different individual, such as a priest or a different social worker, as if “we keep going out to them again and again, they might respond.” He said they have conducted 18 outreaches in the Port Jeff area since 2018 and have assisted 48 people.

“If we continue to reach out to them, they have come into our care, for lack of a better term, to receive case management services,” he said.

Port Jeff Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce vice president, Larry Ryan, said the best way to give homeless access to care is to be compassionate.

“People have to be willing to accept help,” he said. “You can offer it all you want but if that person’s not willing to take help, or use the services being provided for them, your hands get tied.”

That sentiment was echoed by Pax Christi director, Stephen Brazeau, who said he has seen DSS making a good effort, especially when the weather gets cold. He added that one must be cautious of thinking someone you meet on the street must be homeless.

“You always need to be there, need to always be available when that ‘yes’ comes,” Brazeau said.

Alex DeRosa, an aide to Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), said the county has already passed legislation, sponsored by Hahn, to allow police a copy of the list of emergency homes that was originally only kept by DSS.

There are more than 200 supportive housing sites in Suffolk County that DSS does not oversee, which are instead overseen by New York State. However, the state does not list where or how many sober homes in the area.

“That’s what we’re trying to change, increase that communication,” said Pitti.

Village works with local shelter

Residents have appeared at village meetings to state they have seen drug deals happening near the LIRR train tracks in Upper Port, specifically surrounding Hope House Ministries, which has provided services for homeless for just under 40 years.

Port Jefferson residents have mentioned witnessing catcalling and harassment on the train platform from people behind Pax Christi’s fence. One resident, Kathleen Riley, said she had witnessed what could have been a drug deal between people using Pax Christi’s back gate to exchange an item that was then taken by people onto a train.

Village officials said they have been in communication with the Pax Christi’s Brazeau. In the past few weeks, village trustee Kathianne Snaden said she has communicated with Pax Christi and has toured their facility along with village manager Joe Palumbo and Fred Leute, acting chief of code enforcement. While she commended the facility for the work it does, she suggested either extending or raising the exterior fence, though Palumbo said he was told they would not be able to take any action on new fencing until at least the new year.

Snaden said the village has also reached out to a fencing company that could create a new, larger fence in between the platform and Pax Christi, in order to reduce sight lines.

Brazeau said the shelter is looking to install a new fence around the side to the front of the building, and has agreed with the village about them installing a higher fence in between Pax Christi and the platform.

Regarding the back gate, he said fire code mandates it be open from the inside, but didn’t rule out including some kind of alarm system at a later date.

MTA representative Vanessa Lockel lauded the new train station to help beautify the area, along with new security cameras for added protection. However, when it came to adding new benches, civic leaders helped squash that attempt. Pitti said they feared more people using the benches for sleeping or encouraging more people to stay and loiter.

Snaden said code enforcement meets every train arriving in an effort to show a presence, which she said has led to a reduction in incidents, though code enforcement is limited in what they can do, with no power of arrest. MTA police, Lockel said, have more than 700 miles of track to cover on the Long Island Rail Road, and not enough people report incidents to their hotline, 718-361-2201, or text [email protected]

Other services available

Celina Wilson, president of the Bridge of Hope Resource Center in Port Jeff Station, has helped identify other nongovernment entities providing services for the homeless population in the area.

She said the two hospitals in Port Jeff, namely St. Charles and Mather, provide similar amounts of service as far as substance abuse, but while St. Charles hosts inpatient detox and rehabilitation services, Mather hosts outpatient alcohol and substance abuse programs.

There are numerous soup kitchens in both the village and station areas, but only two kitchens, Maryhaven and St. Gerard Majella, host food pantries. She said both groups reported to Bridge of Hope there was a decline in people utilizing their services as of a year ago.

Hope House Ministries hosts a range of services for the homeless, including the Pax Christi 25-bed emergency shelter.

“Most people are not aware of the available resources until they are in a crisis,” Wilson said. “And they are scrambling for answers.”

She said largely in the area, “everyone is doing what they are supposed to be doing,” and thanked the local officials for taking action compared to other areas, like Brentwood, whose officials did not make efforts until the situation was already out of control.

“It’s been a wonderful opportunity to work with the members of the task force,” she said.

 

 

 

Little Portion Friary is on Old Post Road in Mount Sinai. Photo by Giselle Barkley

After 35 years, Hope House Ministries is reuniting with its roots.

Earlier this year, in light of financial difficulties and a lack of manpower, the Franciscan Brothers of the Little Portion Friary on Old Post Road in Mount Sinai announced their building was closing. But this past spring, Father Francis Pizzarelli approached the brothers about acquiring part of the property, and now it can still have a future.

According to Pizzarelli, his Port Jefferson-based nonprofit Hope House Ministries began at the Little Portion Friary location, when it rented the friary’s guesthouse. The group has since grown, adding local properties such as the Pax Christi Hospitality Center on Oakland Avenue in Port Jefferson, where it shelters homeless men. Now it will return to where it all started.

Pizzarelli said the brothers were going to sell the 44-acre property to a developer who was going to build condominiums. Instead, Hope House will rent four acres of the lot — with the rent going toward the land’s purchase price — while the remaining 40 acres will go to Suffolk County. Hope House will change the facility’s name to Hope Academy at Little Portion Friary and use the building to further assist and support the people who are battling addiction.

With Long Island facing heroin addiction in particular as a widespread problem, Pizzarelli said he didn’t have enough space to help, so he first purchased an apartment house in Port Jefferson to accommodate those individuals brought in for assistance.

“What the friary is going to provide for me is greater space,” Pizzarelli said.

The young men who currently reside at the apartment house will be moved to the friary, and the additional space will give them more room to reflect and help further their treatment, the priest said.

The building required basic maintenance and renovations, including repainting the bedrooms, replacing carpets and cleaning the facility.

“When the brothers realized they had to leave, they weren’t going to spend money on a building that might have been demolished,” Pizzarelli said.

Hope House began renovating the building in September. Residents like Ann Moran of Sound Beach described the friary as a “little known secret” in the Mount Sinai area. She was pleased about the friary’s new future, saying, “I’m delighted that Hope House is taking it over and the [friary] won’t be closing.”

Pizzarelli said his neighbors were also thrilled that Hope House was preserving the friary’s nearly eight and a half decades of service to the community.

Despite the changes, one local tradition will remain — the bakery is and will still be open for business. For many years, the brothers were known locally for baking bread and have passed the baton to Hope House, which has been selling bread since October.

Pizzarelli said he kept the bakery “not so much to make money, but to basically honor the brothers and their 86 years.”

The labyrinth and chapel will also be available for community members to use.

According to the Little Portion Friary website, the friary helped serve the community through “prayer, study and work.” The brothers of the friary occasionally took in homeless people or others who simply needed a safe place to go.

The Franciscan brothers are currently in San Francisco and were not available for comment, but Pizzarelli said the brothers were also pleased to know the friary would be used for a good cause.

“The Franciscan brothers have always been supportive of this ministry and are grateful that [the] ministry will continue to give life to this holy ground.”

Flying high on the Smithtown Bypass
A 38-year-old man from Amityville was arrested on Nov. 9 at 10 p.m. after police said he had heroin in his possession, pushed a police officer to the ground and then forcefully pulled away while trying to resist arrest on the Smithtown Bypass in Smithtown. He was charged with seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, second-degree physical contact and resisting arrest.

Garage door damage
An unknown person damaged a garage door of a residence on Oak Avenue in Smithtown at 4 p.m. on Nov. 6.

Goodbye
A 51-year-old man from Holbrook was arrested on Nov. 6 at 11:15 p.m. after police said he drove into a 2007 Ford van that was parked on Johnson Avenue in Ronkonkoma and fled. He was charged with leaving the scene with property damage.

No more rims
Four tires and rims were stolen from a Cadillac at King O’Rourke Cadillac Buick GMC in Smithtown at 10 p.m. on Nov. 4.

Shed crime
A 19-year-old woman and a 20-year-old woman from Commack were arrested after police said they entered a shed on Lillian Road in Nesconset on Nov. 4 without permission at 7:30 a.m. They were both charged with third-degree criminal trespassing of an enclosed property.

Fake
A 45-year-old man from Commack was arrested on Nov. 7 after police said he pretended to be a police officer by showing a fake badge and saying he was a police officer at 1:30 p.m. on Route 25A in Commack. He was charged with second-degree criminal impersonation of a public servant.

Pot stop
Police said a 18-year-old man from Commack had marijuana in his possession at the corner of Route 25A and Commack Road in Commack at 10:50 p.m. on Nov. 4. He was arrested and charged with fifth-degree criminal possession of marijuana.

Flee fail
On Nov. 4 a 63-year-old woman from Commack was arrested after police said she hit a parked 2006 Ford pickup truck on Commack Road at 5:20 p.m. while driving a 2004 Cadillac and attempted to flee the scene. She was arrested and charged with leaving the scene with property damage.

Repair needed
On Nov. 6 around 1:40 p.m. an unknown person damaged the Dano’s Auto Clinic sign on Route 112 in Port Jefferson Station.

Cool crime
Between Nov. 3 and 4 an unidentified person stole an air-conditioning unit from Rheumatology Associates of Long Island in Port Jefferson Station.

Inhospitable hit
Suffolk County police said an unknown person broke the front window of the Pax Christi Hospitality Center in Port Jefferson on Nov. 6. The individual used a rock to damage the window.

Starting a garage band
On Nov. 5 an unidentified person stole an iMac computer and a guitar from a building on Riverhead Road in Sound Beach.

Just beachy
At Scott’s Beach Club in Sound Beach on Nov. 5, someone damaged a security camera and the arm of the security gate.

Mad hatter
On Nov. 7 someone left the Kohl’s in Rocky Point with a black hat without paying.

Can’t get no re-leaf
Between Nov. 4 and 5, an unknown person stole a leaf blower from a residence on Oxhead Road in Centereach. Police said the leaf blower was inside the home but didn’t specify how the person entered the home.

ShopWrong
An unknown person entered the ShopRite in Selden and stole assorted merchandise on Nov. 7.
A female stole assorted items from the Walmart on Nesconset Highway in East Setauket on Nov. 5.

Stony broke
On Nov. 6, an unknown person used another person’s identification without permission. According to police, the victim, who lives in Stony Brook, saw several charges to their bank card.

Drugged up and dreamin’
Police arrested a 28-year-old man from Medford for driving while ability impaired by drugs on Nov. 5, around 4:34 p.m., after he allegedly fell asleep while driving a 2008 Honda Civic west on Canal Road in Mount Sinai. Police arrested the man at the scene.

Wrong way
Police charged a 23-year-old woman on Nov. 5 for driving while ability impaired after she drove a black 2015 Hyundai Elantra the wrong way on a ramp connecting Route 97 and Route 25 in Centereach. According to police, the woman crashed into a tan 2003 Mercedes Benz. Police arrested the woman at the scene.          

License to spray paint
Police arrested a 69-year-old man from Selden on Nov. 6 for six counts of criminal tampering. The man allegedly spray-painted the front and rear license plates of a 2001 Toyota Camry, a 2004 Ford Taurus and four other unidentified cars on Oct. 17 and 27. The incidents took place at St. Joseph’s Village For Senior Citizens in Selden.

Low on luck
An 18-year-old man from East Setauket was arrested for petit larceny on Nov. 5, a few days after he took items from a Lowe’s home improvement store in Medford and attempted to return them for store credit.

Caught after the act
A 50-year-old woman from Rocky Point was arrested for grand larceny on Nov. 5, almost a month after she took a wallet from another woman’s purse on West Broadway in Port Jefferson. Police arrested the woman at the 6th Precinct.

In a Garden State of mind
Police arrested a 17-year-old teen from Brentwood on Nov. 6 for operating a car without a license. According to police, the teen was with another individual when he was driving the 2012 Toyota east on Route 25A in Miller Place, and he was in possession of forged New Jersey license plates.

Crash landing
A 23-year-old woman from Sound Beach was arrested on Nov. 7 for driving while ability impaired, after she crashed her 1996 Volkswagen on Rocky Point Landing Road in Rocky Point. Police arrested the woman on Tall Tree Lane.

The Heartbreaker
Coins and cash were stolen from a 2004 Chevrolet, a 2014 GMC and a 2005 Subaru, all parked in driveways on Valentine Lane in Huntington on Nov. 6.

Windshield woes
On Nov. 5 at 10 p.m. a 21-year-old man from Greenlawn was arrested after police said he jumped on a car on the corner of Greenlawn Road and Tilden Lane, and damaged the windshield. He caused injury to a police officer while resisting arrest, and was charged with second-degree assault with intent to cause physical injury to an officer, resisting arrest and intent to damage property.

Electronic troubles
An unknown person entered a gray 1999 Jeep Cherokee on Nassau Road in Huntington and stole a cell phone and an iPod at 1 a.m. on Nov. 7.

Not quite on Target
On Nov. 5, a 21-year-old woman from Huntington was arrested after police said she stole assorted clothing from the Target on East Jericho Turnpike in Huntington Station at 10:40 p.m. She was charged with petit larceny.

Dodgin’ the law
An unknown person entered a 2011 Dodge in a driveway on Vestry Court in Huntington and stole assorted items, including a pocket knife and a flashlight on Nov. 6.

Fake it till you make it
Police said a 19-year-old man from Roosevelt used fake checks at Community Market on Depot Road in Huntington Station on Nov. 4 at 12:30 p.m. He was charged with second-degree possession of a forged instrument.

Making a legacy in his Legacy
A 53-year-old man from Freeport was arrested at 10:15 a.m. on Nov. 6 after police said he intentionally hit a police vehicle with his 2015 Subaru Legacy on Rofay Drive in East Northport and then resisted arrest. According to police, he also had heroin in his possession. He was charged with second-degree reckless endangerment, third degree criminal mischief for property damage and fourth degree criminal possession of narcotic drugs.

Tears at Sears
Police said a 35-year-old from Huntington Station stole clothing from Sears on Route 25A in East Northport on Nov. 6 at 7 p.m. He was charged with petit larceny.

High on North Hill
A 30-year-old man from Huntington Station was arrested after police said he was in possession of marijuana on the corner of North Hill Drive and Pulaski Road in East Northport on Nov. 5 at around 10 p.m.

No room for that at the inn
On Nov. 7, a 34-year-old man from Hicksville was arrested after police said he was in possession of cocaine in a parking lot of Rodeway Inn on West Jericho Turnpike in Huntington Station. He was charged with seventh degree criminal possession of a controlled substance.

Full speed ahead on Railroad Street
A 35-year-old man from Syosset was arrested on Nov. 5 after police said he was in possession of cocaine, marijuana and prescription pills without a prescription and then resisted arrest at 10:15 p.m. on the corner of Railroad Street and West Pulaski Road in Huntington Station. He was charged with two accounts of seventh degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, resisting arrest and fifth degree criminal possession of marijuana.

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The Pax Christi Hospitality Center is on Oakland Avenue in Port Jefferson. File photo

Pax Christi Hospitality Center needs help supplying guests with sanitary products.

The center, which shelters local homeless men and is under the umbrella of Port Jefferson-based nonprofit Hope House Ministries, founded by Father Francis Pizzarelli, has asked for donations of toothbrushes, small soaps and small shampoos, like the ones found in hotel rooms. The items will go to guests who visit the facility for a shower.

Pax Christi is located at 255 Oakland Ave. in Port Jefferson, near the Long Island Rail Road tracks. It is a 25-bed facility for males older than 16 that provides emergency shelter, food and social services. Call 631-928-9108 for more information.