The winter season is an exceedingly challenging time for the East End’s homeless population, and in this unprecedented winter, Maureen’s Haven has had to adjust their programs and services to help those in need in ways that are safe for all parties involved. Executive Director Dan O’Shea discusses the growing need for homeless support, how Maureen’s Haven is working to fill that need and what the East End community can do to help their less fortunate neighbors in this uncertain time.
Has Maureen’s Haven seen a noticeable increase in the number of homeless people seeking help during the pandemic compared to previous years, and do you expect further increase into the winter months?
We have seen an increase in the number of people seeking our services. Throughout the pandemic, we remained very busy and now that the colder weather is coming, calls for services are increasing every day. We started our Emergency Winter Shelter Program on November 1, and we have been close to capacity each night. In addition, due the pandemic, many other organizations that provide similar services in Suffolk County will not be operating this season, and, as of now, Maureen’s Haven is the only private, non-county operated shelter in Suffolk County. We have been extremely busy and we fully anticipate the demand to increase as the weather get colder.
How have the Maureen’s Haven programs and services evolved during the pandemic, and how will this winter operate differently than previous years?
When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit in March, we quickly adapted our programs to meet the needs of the homeless in our community. We increased our outreach efforts, we continued to operate seven days a week, and we started a weekend lunch program to address the lack of food and resources early in the pandemic. We started a telemedicine program, and we stepped up our relationships with local healthcare providers to ensure our guests had access to healthcare services.
Regarding the Emergency Winter Shelter Program, we had to make significant changes to the way we operate the program this season. We are now following all CDC and Department of Health recommendations, including mask wearing, social distancing and increased had washing and sanitizing. With our host sites, we are limiting the number of guests at each site to accommodate social distancing, as well as transporting less guests in our vans. However, we are still able to operate at a 32 beds per night, with the addition of a second host site to accommodate our overflow.
Have any former host sites been reluctant to open their doors during the pandemic, and how are the remaining host sites balancing the wellbeing of the homeless with the safety of their volunteers?
We are very fortunate to have so many congregations and supporters throughout the East End, and many of them are continuing to support us in some capacity. What is most important is that we do have the host sites this season to operate our program. While many of the host sites were reluctant to host this season, and understandably so, we are grateful for their continued support and dedication. We are truly blessed.
In the past, we had about 20 host sites. This season, we are operating about 12, with several acting mainly as overflow sites. We are also asking the volunteers to limit their interactions with other volunteers, staff and our guests. It is all about the health and safety of all participants. Rather than have a number of volunteers on site each night helping with the program, many are now serving pre-made meals, doing all the setups prior to our arrival, and limiting interactions such as eating meals together, playing cards or board games, or limiting fellowship. It’s been a challenge, but we are all committed to making it work as safe as possible.
How is Maureen’s Haven using community outreach and social media to raise awareness of its services during this time of increased isolation?
We have such strong relationships with many dedicated supporters on the East End, and we are grateful for their continued support. With our Summer Lunch Program, for example, volunteers from every community graciously provided the lunches every week. Many also held donation drives to help us with critical needs, especially early in the pandemic. We also rely on community outreach to keep us informed about those in our community who need help. We often get calls from concerned citizens about homeless in the community, and we make every effort to respond to outreach calls. We do cover the entire East End, both forks, so conducting outreach can be challenging with our limited resources. We also have amazing relationships with local law enforcement agencies, we partner with hospitals and healthcare providers, and we routinely coordinate efforts with our partner agencies to ensure services are provided.
We are in the middle of our Annual Holiday Appeal and social media does play a key role with spreading the word about that, as well as informing the many new residents on the East End about our programs. For the months of November and December, we’ve been hoping to get 10 donations a day. Since it is unlikely we will be holding our Annual Winter Benefit, our hope is that the 10×61 campaign will held us offset any lost funding from that event, as well as give us the needed financial support going into 2021.
What are some ways the East End community can help Maureen’s Haven serve the homeless in this unprecedented winter?
Throughout the pandemic, many individuals, organizations and congregations stepped up without hesitation. But as we enter the winter months, support is needed now more than ever. With limited resources, Maureen’s Haven has had to fill in many of the gaps with the Winter Shelter Program. With overnight innkeepers, for example, we are having to provide staff due to a lack of volunteers to serve as overnight innkeepers. With social distancing, we are limiting the number of guests we can transport at one time, which has almost doubled the number of trips we have to take nightly. And as our numbers increase, we expect to have to provide more staff and resources to the program to ensure we can operate each night. The best way people can help is with financial support. We are a small, private nonprofit, so all contributions go directly into our programs. Of course, we also need essential items such as non-perishable foods, winter clothing (hats, gloves, thermals). However, this year we have a need for items such as paper towels and toilet paper, hand sanitizer, cleaning and disinfectant products, and masks and PPEs.
Visit maureenshaven.org to learn more and to donate to the 2020 Holiday Fundraising Campaign.