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Dec 22, 2010 9:13 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Holidays Are Especially Difficult For Homeless

Dec 22, 2010 9:13 AM

Over the last three months, Hampton Bays native Debra Marks has relocated her family and their few bagged belongings from friend’s house to friend’s house. Along the way, her 5-year-old son, she said, repeatedly asks her one big question: “How is Santa going to know where to put our Christmas presents?”

“It’s hard to tell my children that Santa can’t bring them everything on their wish lists,” said Ms. Marks, whose name has been changed to protect her privacy. “They’re such good kids—it’s not their fault.”

She wiped away tears and forced a smile toward her 4-year-old daughter sitting across the table from her at Panera Bread in Bridgehampton earlier this month. The girl didn’t notice her mother’s sadness, as she was absorbed in doodling on a piece of paper, with her 2-year-old brother seated next to her.

Ms. Marks breathed out a heavy sigh as she pulled herself together. “I feel so guilty,” she murmured to herself, putting her head in her hands.

She doesn’t have the heart to tell her three children that they’re homeless.

Ms. Marks and her children are just a part of an ever-growing homeless epidemic across Suffolk County—which is exacerbated by a bleak job market and limited affordable housing, especially in the Hamptons, said Suffolk County Department of Social Services Commissioner Gregory Blass.

“We call this here the perfect storm,” Mr. Blass said this week. “We have reached the capacity on all of our shelters for families, so now we’re forced to move them into hotels.”

At this time last year, the DSS housed 347 homeless families countywide. This winter has seen a “significant” 21-percent increase, to 422 families, Mr. Blass said. The number of homeless individuals has increased by 6.2 percent, from 210 homeless last year to 223 now.

The families are placed into 47 family shelters spread from Amityville to Riverhead, said DSS Deputy Commissioner Dr. Edward Hernandez. The only Suffolk County towns that do not have county-run shelters are Shelter Island, East Hampton and Southold.

There are slightly more than 100 families living in hotel rooms because there is no space at the shelters, Mr. Blass said, and most of the hotels are located in the western half of the county—from Huntington to Smithtown to Riverhead.

“Families who are homeless are never turned away,” Mr. Blass emphasized, “even though we’re under terrific strain as volume keeps increasing.”

When Ms. Marks found herself without a home, she immediately sought help from the DSS, but she quickly realized that her only option was to stay in a shelter while she waited to qualify for federally subsidized Section 8 housing.

“I thought, ‘Oh my God, I can’t bring my kids to a shelter, especially because they don’t know what’s going on,’” she remembered. “They think we’re just having sleepovers.”

In lieu of moving into a homeless shelter, Ms. Marks shuffled her children and their belongings between four of her friends’ houses, from Sag Harbor to Hampton Bays, between September and early December, each of them allowing the family to stay in a spare bedroom or, in the most dire of situations, on a living room couch.

But at least temporarily, the sleepovers are no longer. Until February, Ms. Marks and her children have a place to stay. A friend is allowing them to live in a summer house in Hampton Bays for two months, hoping that it will allow Ms. Marks enough time to get herself back onto her feet.

“It’s just amazing how fast it all comes tumbling down,” Ms. Marks said. “I still don’t know how to fix it.”

In August, the Hampton Bays native moved from South Carolina to an apartment in East Hampton with her husband and children without a care in the world. “I brought my children back here because it was such a great place to grow up,” Ms. Marks said. “I was so stupid. I just never thought …” she trailed off, shaking her head.

Several weeks later, Ms. Marks’s husband disappeared, leaving the stay-at-home mother with three mouths to feed and no money or credit cards to her name.

“He left me with nothing—literally, nothing,” she said.

Ms. Marks soon learned that her husband fled to Florida because a warrant had been issued against him for illegal gambling charges. “He owed a lot of people a lot of money,” she said, noting that he is now in jail in South Carolina. “I guess he meant well. He promised everyone everything, and could not deliver what he promised. I don’t even care anymore. The only thing I care about is putting a roof over my kids’ heads.”

For now, Ms. Marks can rest relatively easy in Hampton Bays, but she said she is still fighting an uphill battle. She said she cannot look for a job, because she’s unable to pay for child care and must stay home and watch her children—leaving her without a way to build a financial base.

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It's so nice the Press is headlining this problem. But, homeless Mom's shifting from house to house is nothing new. Over the past fifteen years I've even run into women who have lived in garages, on boats and in trailers, sometimes without running water, just to keep their kids in the same school district until their luck changed. Many didn't have money for a security down payment on a new rental, others had lost their homes when a landlord wouldn't renew and they couldn't find anything affordable. ...more
By goldenrod (505), southampton on Dec 24, 10 12:14 AM
Just a sign of the times, one could opine.

The first 6 years of the 21st century was one h**l of a fiscally negligent party.

Welcome to the hangover...
Dec 24, 10 7:10 PM appended by Mr. Z
“When I’m out, I see women buying bags for thousands upon thousands of dollars, and I think about what that money could do for a family in need,” she said.
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Dec 24, 10 7:10 PM
1 member liked this comment
If she is so broke, what is she doing in stores that sell Luis Vuitton bags?

Maybe the Ford Expedition wasn't a smart choice for a vehicle either, could've had a minivan that was half the price and much better on gas.
By ICE (1214), Southampton on Dec 31, 10 3:42 AM
It sounds as though her move from South Carolina was not too well planned.
Did she or her husband ?? have jobs?? Or did they think Social Services was a better deal in the Northeast? While I can sympathize with someone who has lost their job, it does not appear this woman or her husband were very good providers. Where is her family. Hopefully, they can take her in and allow her to get a job. Because others have money and are spending it is their business.
By Bridget325 (27), Hampton Bays on Dec 26, 10 4:31 PM
5 members liked this comment
All that and she has 3 kids? Why people continue to have kids with no means of providing for them is beyond me.
By ICE (1214), Southampton on Dec 31, 10 3:27 AM
Do not judge people based on limited info from a news article. We are ALL just a heartbeat away from the same tragedy and we would be judged just as harshly.

Whatever happened to compassion and understanding?
By razza5351 (551), East Hampton on Dec 31, 10 11:58 AM
It went out the window with 60% of my paycheck!
By Walt (292), Southampton on Dec 31, 10 7:42 PM
I agree with Bridget325. I can almost guarantee that the homeless population is not from here, but somewhere else. They move here from other parts of the country, or are shipped out here from up West. Remember the motel fiasco? When the county was picking up the tab for $4500.00 per month rooms? There's a whole other story that goes with that.
By clamdigger (85), Quogue on Dec 27, 10 2:53 AM
1 member liked this comment
'Tis the season to be m-e-a-n.
Fa-la-la-la-la, La-la-la-la!
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Dec 27, 10 10:17 AM
1 member liked this comment
It's mean to expect people to take care of their own children and be financially responsible? Why should I have to pay for this mother's mistakes? Enough already with the whining and crying about the unfairness of being poor. Get a job, be responsible, and things like this won't happen.
By Spelling Cop (22), Southampton on Dec 28, 10 8:46 AM
2 members liked this comment
Zu befehl!
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Dec 28, 10 9:51 AM
Spelling Cop, You are clearly a hateful, despicable, miserable person with little purpose or joy in your life so you attack others. If you ever find yourself in the same position as those less fortunate I hope you can find people much more decent than yourself to give you a hand. Who are you to judge these people? You think someone enjoys being homeless? You should be ashamed. How sad to be filled with such hate.
By razza5351 (551), East Hampton on Dec 31, 10 12:00 PM
A lot of homeless people choose to be so. They don't want the responsibilities of working and paying bills. The problem is Ny State has the highest welfare and medicaid entitkements in the country. All the poor people move here for better benefits. If all you liberals want to take care of the homeless, then do so on your own. Why don't you build an extra room on your houses and take them in. Stop spending other peoples money!
By Walt (292), Southampton on Dec 31, 10 7:46 PM
"A lot of homeless people choose to be so. They don't want the responsibilities of working and paying bills." I find it so depressing that people like you actually have such stone-cold hearts that you are willing to say such things. I bet if you had to reveal your name you would not have the courage to spew such ignorant, hateful, clap-trap.

If caring about my fellow human makes me a "liberal" then I wear that banner proudly. Look up the word "karma", Walt. Something really awful must ...more
By progressnow (556), sag harbor on Jan 1, 11 3:23 PM
No, just fed up.
By clamdigger (85), Quogue on Dec 27, 10 8:38 PM
1 member liked this comment
Fed up with what? What did these people do to you?
By razza5351 (551), East Hampton on Dec 31, 10 12:01 PM
I'm fed up with people who come out here either on their own or put here by the government thinking it's an easy ride. I'm fed up with my taxes going up, my health insurance going up, and the quality of life out here going down quick. I'm fed up with liberals who insist I am wrong in feeling this way. I am fed up with having to pay someone else's way. It would be best to go back to the community they are from, and either live with family or sponge off of the do gooders there.
By clamdigger (85), Quogue on Dec 31, 10 8:03 PM
My grandmother used to have this expression - "there, by the grace of God, go I." I cannot believe these comments. Anyone's luck can change in an instant. What if you became ill, or lost your job, or your spouse? You need 2 incomes to live these days - especially in the Hamptons. I hope each of you thank God every day that you are so healthy & wealthy that you do not have to worry about where your next meal is coming from.
By Ms. Jane Q. Public (147), Southampton on Dec 28, 10 11:40 AM
Yada,yada yah... She shouldn't have move to one of the more expensive areas of the country, without the skills needed to survive.
By ICE (1214), Southampton on Dec 31, 10 3:29 AM
You are exactly right, Ms. Jane Q. It is disgusting to see the kind of hatred and ignorance portrayed in these comments. The irony is this: if these miserable, vile posters judging these people and their families ever find themselves in the same position, there will be people of much greater moral fiber standing by ready to help them.
By razza5351 (551), East Hampton on Dec 31, 10 12:04 PM
1 member liked this comment
Now I finished the article... a stay at home mom? Really? Get a grip! That is irresponsible on it's own. To think you can do the 1950's routine nowadays is purely foolish. 3 kids is enough to deal with if you have the money. Two kids is plenty, anymore is irresponsible as the planet is overpopulated. If anyone wants a third child they should be taxed for the impact to the planet and society....
By ICE (1214), Southampton on Dec 31, 10 3:38 AM
1 member liked this comment
Seeing as how inflation increased a bit more than 300%, between 1970, and 2000 alone (Yes "Gen-Xer's, that means most things in life cost you at least three times as much as your parents), the 50's "good life" is long gone, and the "poor" are no longer so invisible.
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Dec 31, 10 12:41 PM
This mother may have been irresponsible for many of the reasons in previous comments. However these three children have done nothing to deserve any of this. These children are innocent victims. I don't like my taxes being used as handouts. But if society has to step in and help, so be it. These children need the basics of necessities, number 1 being shelter. Hopefully they will get the education and guidance they need to become self reliant, with a decent future. Perhaps someday they will return ...more
By ADAMSG (53), EAST QUOGUE on Dec 31, 10 8:17 AM
I must say I find it hard to be surprised by some of the things written on this site, but to see so many people attacking someone down on their luck makes me despair for our country's future. I hope this family finds peace and shelter and god bless those willing to help a fellow human in need.
By progressnow (556), sag harbor on Dec 31, 10 12:06 PM
Wow - there's a lot of mean going on here. Remember folks, our good fortunes can change quickly. Nobody wants to be poor. I have to assume that the sentiment posted by many here is that of the minority. Such harsh critics out there who obviously have never made a bad decision in life. Glad to know I live amongst such perfection.
By double standard (1506), quogue on Dec 31, 10 12:51 PM
1 member liked this comment
Do posters never consider that what they say about others often is more revelatory of themselves then of the people about whom they comment?

A woman with three children arrives on the East End with her husband who then deserts her leaving her penniless and homeless. Shortly thereafter, In this season of good will, some posters use this misfortune to accuse her of laziness, stupidity and manipulation, not to mention COSTING THEM MONEY(?)!

These people ought to be required to wear ...more
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Dec 31, 10 2:33 PM
1 member liked this comment
So correct, highhatsize, I just hope that the family does not stumble upon this site and read these comments. If you do, please know that many more of us wish you well.

Happy New Year to all and may you find it in your heart to perform an act of kindness for those less fortunate.
By progressnow (556), sag harbor on Dec 31, 10 3:41 PM
How about the Scarlett A political party! We will take this country back.
By Walt (292), Southampton on Dec 31, 10 7:53 PM
I'll buy her a ticket so she can go back where she came from. This is clearly not the place to be . Jobs are impossible because of our inundation and too expensive because of the other inundation. Locals don't stand a chance in their own town.
By clamdigger (85), Quogue on Dec 31, 10 8:08 PM
Read the article. She is originally from Southampton and her husband deserted her. Please, just an inkling of compassion for the new year.
By progressnow (556), sag harbor on Jan 1, 11 10:51 PM
I understand both sides of this discussion. I agree its not the childrens fault there in the position there in on the other hand as an adult you have responsibilies. If you cant afford to have children dont have them. I waited to have children until I was financially capable and didnt have to rely on others. As for work, I work 3 jobs. 1 full time 2part time. I know i can go out next week and get 3 more jobs if i needed to. The jobs are out there, they might not be what you want but if times ...more
By GoldenBoy (351), EastEnd on Dec 31, 10 4:58 PM
The fact is the Hamptons is not the place to come to with no visable means of support! Now Hampton bays on the otherhand........
By Walt (292), Southampton on Dec 31, 10 7:55 PM
At the risk of depriving the Objectivists/psychopaths of a scapegoat, the article actually indicates that Ms. Marks grew up in Southampton and returned to her childhood home accompanied by her husband who deserted her resulting in her homelessness.

She is blameless other than in her choice of spouse.
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Jan 1, 11 3:24 PM
Highhat, you are assuming that these hateful dittoheads actually take the time to read the article before commenting and they clearly do not. Thank you for trying to enlighten them, but it is hopeless. These people are so miserable and filled with such hate and cowardice that they cannot help but attack those less fortunate and least able to fight back.
By progressnow (556), sag harbor on Jan 1, 11 10:50 PM
We are all one accident or one medical report away from the same situation-some compassion please.
By EastEnd68 (888), Westhampton on Jan 1, 11 4:49 PM