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Hope House Addresses Community About Homeless Issues

Residents voice concerns and hear about increasing problems with homelessness in Suffolk County.

A representative from met with concerned residents at the Port Jefferson village board meeting on Monday to talk about the work the organization does and address community concerns about the people who use its services.

Chairman of Hope House, Charlie Russo, an attorney from Belle Terre, addressed the public, sharing startling facts about increasing homelessness on Long Island, dispelling myths about Hope House and facing some public criticism about the program.

Russo, who is also board member of the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless, told the packed room that the plight of Suffolk County’s homeless population is getting worse, with shelters filling up and returning veterans swelling their ranks.

“This is the worst homeless count we’ve had,” he said. “Suffolk is begging us to do more.”

Suffolk County judges and District Attorneys often call the organization pleading with them to “please make room” for more residents.

Homeless shelters on Long Island are in “crisis mode,” according to Russo and the situation is getting worse. Two years ago he said that they had “gotten away from using hotels” to house the homeless but they are now “back up to very high numbers.” Budget cuts and the increasing veteran’s situation are making it hard for the government to do anything more but the problem isn’t going away.

“Everyone wants a solution to the problem but we have none,” Russo said.

Hope House came to the village in 1984 and has various facilities around Port Jefferson that help boys who find themselves without a place to live and nowhere else to go. Russo explained that the organization has a very high placement rate for the clients who come to them and a social work staff deals with kids everyday, trying to find a place for them. He stressed that Hope House does not run a flophouse. The beds at Hope House are full with 45 boys currently living there. An associated program called Pax Christi has 18 residents, sometimes with more on cold winter nights. Suffolk County assigns cases to Pax Christi who then assesses the boys and finds out their needs.

Russo dispelled an often-told story that founder Father Frank Pizzarelli travels into New York City to give homeless boys the train ticket fare to take the Port Jefferson line to the end so they could come to Hope House, calling it “untrue.”

During the meeting, Marge McCuen asked Russo about a house that Hope House owns on Main Street across from Infant Jesus Church, concerned that it was a “sober house” where people with drug or alcohol problems can stay while recovering from their addiction.

Russo said the two-story home, called “St. Francis House,” is merely an overflow where 10 boys in the Hope House program and a staff member stay only to sleep.

“I assume we are perfectly safe?” asked Barbara Sabatino, owner of on Main Street. She was concerned that some of Hope House's clients were sex offenders.

“We don’t have any sex offenders,” Russo responded.

He made the point that the boys in Hope House are there to become better citizens and that three of the staff members at his law office in Hauppauge are graduates of the program, two of them lawyers.

Village board member Lee Rosner asked Russo what happens to the people who get turned away from the program, saying that it is “troublesome for the community.”

Russo said that the organization’s Social Workers try to find a place for each and every person who comes to them but they do not take people who are drunk or on drugs and will call police if the need arises to take away some who come to their doors.

Mayor Margot Garant told Russo that the village has noticed a significant increase in the homeless population in the past 18 months and that people in the community feel homeless people are drawn to area around Pax Christi because of the services they offer.

Resident Phil Griffith came to the defense of Hope House saying that it has been left to the communities to resolve the problem of homelessness.

“I commend Hope House,” he said. “I publically thank them for the job they’re trying to do.”

Russo said that municipalities have their hands tied and has “given the burden to us.”

“This is the second president to say he will eradicate homelessness,” he said. “The homeless counts are higher than ever.”

While Russo said that Hope House is not going to close its doors anytime soon despite his dream of seeing the problem solved, he did say that even after almost 30 years in the community they can get better at what they do and that it was still a learning process.

The village will be meeting with Hope House representatives again on Jan. 20 to further discuss these issues.

“Make no mistake,” he said. “We can’t go anywhere.”

Chris S January 16, 2012 at 02:57 PM
I think they owe those who live and work in the Port Jefferson Village/Station area that much if they operating here. We as residents and business owners must comply, if we don't there are penalties that are enforced.
BillLongisland January 16, 2012 at 03:00 PM
Chris S, We all know that this "Quality of Life" thing is "political show boating" by Town "do gooders", but if if Tax Payers and Voters are held to the same laws on a Town, County, State and Federal level, "Why" not Hope House/Pax Christi ? Answer : They think they are "better" that the general public is, and The Are Above The Law !
BillLongisland January 16, 2012 at 03:21 PM
The Port Jeff Village Government doesn't care about that area...just so the Flotsam is not "downtown" around the water and Danfords, they could care less about that part of the Village ! This is how short-sighted they are, because usually this is the first part of the Town visitors see and the first impression they get of Port Jeff !
Rocky January 16, 2012 at 05:58 PM
I live in this area & I do know how seedy uptown has become but I don't blame Hope House for the problem. The Quality of Life laws in Brookhaven are for property owners of private homes & businesses with properties that have seriously unsafe or hazardous conditions. LOOK around - do you not see how many OTHER businesses & properties along the area of Rt 112 from uptown to the harbor are ALSO in violation of these laws? A church in the area was operating a Soup kitchen & had to stop feeding people because a business owner in the area had put through a complaint under the "Quality of Life laws". Someone then reported the SAME business owner & the business is now closed because they were in violation of the very same laws. Blaming Hope House when it is there to assist with the problem of homeless young people & adults is to me not the answer. Uptown Port Jefferson did not get this way just because of Hope House. (BTW, many town residents ALSO object to Pax Christi being used as a "sober house" ) The main reason the area has become so seedy is because the Town Village has totally ignored this area for years. Residents & businesses of Port Jeff should meet with Town officials & concentrate on SOLUTIONS to how to transform the area.
Chris S January 16, 2012 at 06:38 PM
I agree the uptown area has become the red headed step child of the village, but no one has blamed Hope House. As I understand it there is supervision of the youths in that service through programs they attend or school. I am sure many leave to become upstanding community members. That is very commendable, but the point is, the quality of life is affected for everyone... the residents, the business owners and the people who are homeless themselves. Surely you have heard of fights breaking out up there. I don't mean to make it sound like the wild west, but it does happen. Let me point out again, it isn't Hope House the blame is assigned to. Believe me when I tell you that many of us are just making it and who knows, a medical catastrophe or job loss in this economy can be just the thing that pushes you over to the side where you also may need social assistance. This dialogue does not come from a disregard for the poor.
BillLongisland January 16, 2012 at 07:18 PM
Hey Rocky, Here is what the Town's Quality of Life Task Force is about... "In June of 2009, Supervisor Mark Lesko established the Town of Brookhaven's Quality of Life Task Force to aggressively enforce the Town codes and crack down on serial offenders and property owners who violate the law with a disregard for the health and safety of our residents. " http://www.brookhaven.org/Departments/LawDepartment/QualityofLifeTaskForce.aspx I don't see Any exceptions for Ministry Of Hope Inc., do you ? I don't see an exemption for "charity organizations ?
BillLongisland January 16, 2012 at 07:28 PM
And Rocky, you have to blame Hope House, or as it's formally registered "Ministry of Hope Inc.". They are The Blame if they ratchet up Public Filth and do Nothing about cleaning themselves up, let alone the locality where they are located. With attitudes like Russo's, "that even after almost 30 years in the community they can get better at what they do and that it was still a learning process." this is a guy who is trying "to pull something", and, basically, has contempt for The Public that supports them in this area. It seems Mr. Russo is happy "The Fix Is In", and knows the he and Ministry Of Hope Inc. that Nothing Will Happen To Change Things. This socalled "public hearing" was just Political Theater to satisfy The Angry Citiizens ! Nothing Will Be Done because there is No One In Port Jefferson who has the intestinal fortitude to tackle the problem. What's interesting is, Father Frank Pizzarelli is Very Sensitive to the public outcry...it is rare that mass that he officiates at, goes by, that he doesn't mention it...So Keep On The Heat To Father Frank Pizzarelli !
Chris S January 16, 2012 at 08:09 PM
Does anyone know if Father Frank spends any time at these facilities? I meant to ask Mr. Russo this last Monday. It seems as Father Frank does many things as well as his pastoral duties.
BillLongisland January 17, 2012 at 05:58 AM
Man of the Year in Religion: Fr. Francis Pizzarelli A man who gives hope to troubled youth By Caitlin FerrellWrite The Author Fr. Francis Pizzarelli is Man of the Year in Religion for his dedication to the welfare of young men. Photo from Patty Griffin Port Times Record December 28, 2011 | 11:29 AM Father Francis Pizzarelli is one busy man. He does weekly Masses at five different churches in the area, plus one on Fire Island during the summer. He acts as the "surrogate dad" to residents at Hope House, which he founded in 1980. He does weddings, funerals and baptisms on the weekends. He teaches sociology and humanities courses at Suffolk Community College and St. Joseph's College. "He calls himself Rent-a-Priest," said Patty Griffin, an administrative assistant at Hope House. "He's everywhere." http://www.northshoreoflongisland.com/Articles-News-i-2011-12-29-90791.112114-sub-Man-of-the-Year-in-Religion-Fr-Francis-Pizzarelli.html
Mels Ditties January 17, 2012 at 03:56 PM
Very interesting comments/dialog.... Can the Brookhaven Quality of Life issues be addressed in The Incorporated Village of Port Jeff? The Hope House residents aren't really any problem, but the Pax folks certainly do have a negative effect on upper Port... IMO, the PTB are allowing uptown to decay so that in a few years time they will be able to exercise eminent domain in the area and totally rebuild.
Chris S January 17, 2012 at 09:44 PM
I know that the Brookhaven quality of life laws are enforced in Port Jeff Station. I would think they are enforceable in the Village of Port Jeff. as well. We still pay Brookhaven taxes. If I am wrong please correct me. The Village has been working on a master plan for many years now which includes the station area revitalization. Who knows if it will ever come to fruition, but the uptown area is a huge blight. It is if it would practically have to be leveled.
Chris S January 17, 2012 at 09:49 PM
There is no one who would invest money in any reasonable business endeavor uptown in part because of what it has become.
BillLongisland January 18, 2012 at 05:47 AM
It's politics. For obvious reasons, Hope House/Pax Christi is "untouchable" and can get away, with Anything. But there is a Dark Side to this "arrangement", that will eventually come out...it always does.
BillLongisland January 18, 2012 at 05:54 AM
Last September, IHOP had an opening day robbery by an individual, by an individual brandishing a knife who robbed customers, that has yet to be apprehended. Interestingly, he just disappeared...or did he ? Was he a Hope House/Pax Christi "customer" ? Who knows in that neighborhood ? I'm not patronizing that IHOP anymore...and it's a shame because it's a very good local business. How many other robberies or "incidents" go reported or are actually unreported at the urging of Police and Local Politicians, and are covered-up in the neighborhood...I'm betting Lots More That We Don't Know About ! http://www.northshoreoflongisland.com/Articles-i-2011-09-22-89657.112114-Patrons-robbed-at-Port-Jeff-Station-IHOP.html
BillLongisland January 18, 2012 at 10:49 AM
ChrisS, here is a backgrounder page about the State law that authorized the Town of Brookhaven to establish it's Quality of Life Laws and its Court. S1801-2011: Authorizes town of Brookhaven to establish a housing and community court, and provides for its powers and duties http://open.nysenate.gov/legislation/bill/S1801-2011
Mels Ditties January 18, 2012 at 11:03 AM
Port Jeff STATION is outside the "Incorporated Village" and believe that the village does not have to inforce the same laws....(remember the fiasco on Willis Ave (VoPJ) a couple of years back?...IF the Brookhaven Quality of Life laws applied the property would have been cleaned (and owner fined)..But instead it was a village (unresolved) issue As for the Revitalization Plan(s), how much (tax payers) money has been spent on these "pie in the sky" dreams. Last plan I saw, while lovely, didn't take into account existing buildings / problems... "Who knows if it will ever come to fruition, but the uptown area is a huge blight. It is if it would practically have to be leveled."....Right...So if it continues to be ignored, it would be ripe for eminent domain and leveling....Which would be great for the town / town image, but what about the building owners / business owners and residents who are struggling now?
BillLongisland January 18, 2012 at 11:08 AM
Mel Ditties... "So if it continues to be ignored, it would be ripe for eminent domain and leveling....Which would be great for the town / town image, but what about the building owners / business owners and residents who are struggling now?" And since the area is ripe for "leveling", you know that there are plans in the works for Everyone To Get A Taste, right ? Cha-CHING $$$$$$$$$
Mels Ditties January 18, 2012 at 11:17 AM
"How many other robberies or "incidents" go reported or are actually unreported at the urging of Police and Local Politicians, and are covered-up in the neighborhood...I'm betting Lots More That We Don't Know About !" Did you read the story about the Pax resident who wound up under the train at the station a couple of months ago?....How about the rash of cel phone robberies at the train station?....The Christmas shoppers who were threatened by a local and were so terrified they hid out in a store until the police could escort them back to their car parked near the train station?....The thug on thug fights, attacks & robberies?....No?....Could be that many of these incidents don't rate a formal police report or those that do never seem to make the news....Keep an eye open for the report of the break-in robbery that happened in the middle of the day yesterday...That one might actually make it to the newspapers...Maybe Ignore and deny...great policy!
BillLongisland January 18, 2012 at 12:18 PM
What it is Mels Ditties, is, covering up for Father Frank and whatever he has a "finger in" locally ! Over the past year he was taking his "show on the road", as it were, appearing at local schools all over the area. Once you have the gravitas that he has, doors "open" and doors "close" on things. There are probably so many former or present "patients" of his, in and out of local government, among the Local Political Elites, and in the police itself...well, you know ;-) What's ironic, is, none of this "help" he gets really helps him in the end...it just adds to the Hole he is digging for himself...Remember Pride cometh before the Fall ! And it may be a Big One for him someday. It's Human Nature, and in Brookhaven it's just a way of Life !
Chris S January 18, 2012 at 12:47 PM
I can tell you there is alot that goes on around here that the average person never hears about, just by attending the monthly village meetings. You get the feeling that things are swept under the carpet. There had been a rash of car break ins from Sept. to late Nov. They were in residential neighborhoods. You very seldom hear of these in things in any local paper and forget about Newsday. It seems that no matter what administration is in charge, in all local branches of government, everything is hushed regarding the crime rate around here.
BillLongisland January 18, 2012 at 06:35 PM
There seems to be No Local Politician, from the village level, the Town and County level, and the State level, who will say or do Anything about the rising Crime, other than to trot out the Police Public Relations Team, and give us "tips" to deal with it ourselves. This strategy says "We Surrender" to the Criminal element, and they are happy to take advantage of the Silence. The current "The End Justifies The Means" attitude will wear thin, eventually, but it has yet to reach a "tipping point", especially in this particular area. As I have said, Father Frank is particularly sensitive to the public discussion about this...so people in this area have to take advantage of this weakness of his Ego on this subject, if they want to get him to do something about it. Local Pols, and the police won't "touch him with a ten foot pole" and do it for you.
Rocky January 18, 2012 at 11:22 PM
The rising crime is not the fault of organizations like Hope House. It is the state of the current economy that has caused an increase in crime in every town on Long Island. The decline of the economy has also caused organizations all across Long Island (like Hope House, Lighthouse Mission in Bellport, etc) to see an increase in HUNDREDS of people needing assistance as never before. The only way to improve the area of uptown Port Jeff is for residents, business owners and Town officials to work with Father Frank & other organizations that assist with the poor and homeless. You mentioned that you want Father Frank to do something about it but my question to you is: What do you want Father Frank to do?
Chris S January 19, 2012 at 01:03 AM
I think that better supervision of Pax Chrisi residents would be a start. Maybe that would stop some of the loitering around the train station area as well as fights that have been known to break out uptown. Perhaps these people should be made to check in every hour or so if they leave the premise as well as random drug testing in order to remain a resident. Members of our armed forces are subject to these things when they are on any sort of leave. Maybe they can get involved in some sort of clean up activity around the train station and Pax Christi grounds. This would occupy time more constructively than loitering. There also needs to be more of a police presence in the uptown area on a regular basis, not just for a few days after something happens. I think Pax Christi needs to recognize and take some responsability for what is happening up there. After all, "if you build it they will come". What are your thoughts on how residents and business can assist with this problem?
BillLongisland January 19, 2012 at 05:22 AM
You are kidding us right ?
BillLongisland January 19, 2012 at 05:23 AM
Perhaps you are naive.
Chris S January 19, 2012 at 11:45 AM
I answered as if this were a perfect world (which we know isn't). I am curious to hear what Rocky's ideas on this are. At the end of the day, I don't think this matter will ever get resolved.
John Pine January 21, 2012 at 05:38 AM
The situation in Port Jefferson is out of control. To be frank, I don't feel safe either boarding or disembarking from the LIRR there at ANY time. There's bums everywhere. They ask for money, they even sleep in the station waiting room, and wash up in the restrooms stinking up the place. It seems this area of Port Jeff is a dumping ground. I avoid the area whenever I can. I have a photo of the guys sleeping in the LIRR waiting room which I will forward to the editor. And that's only one problem, then there's all the illegals loitering around by the Army Navy store and the Bravo supermarket. This is quickly becoming one of Suffolk County's worst neighborhoods.
BillLongisland January 21, 2012 at 04:11 PM
Unfortunately, this matter won't get resolved until a fatality or an incident occurs that they All can't cover up or pay someone's Silence off. Covering Up the Crime in this are isn't going to help Anyone, when they are not able to cover it up anymore. It's only a matter of time.
Earl August 30, 2012 at 03:20 PM
So lets get this discussion going again. This story was linked to from a current story. It is now 8 months later, and the area has only gotten worse. Where is Father Frank hiding out these days? He started these places, HE needs to answer to the locals. Patch, get on it now!!!
brookhavenconfucius February 26, 2014 at 12:17 PM
THE FIX IS IN, Earl !

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