Homeless Day Laborers Call the Woods of L.I. "Home"

30 or so call

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK

    "No trespassing, private property" signs line a wooded property in Huntington, but the smell of a fire indicates that these woods are occupied by people -- specifically undocumented workers with no place else to stay.

    Following the aroma of smoke leads to a makeshift camp nestled in the thick brush; mattresses sat in a circle there, clothing hung in the trees and food cans littered the ground. It is home to about 30 homeless Hispanic day laborers.

    Earlier this month, in the midst of a bitter cold snap, local officials forced the men to leave the camp, fearing it was unsafe. But now, they have returned to set up camp again.

    In the words of one of the men, 53 year old Pablo Cervantes, "we have no place else to go."

    Cervantes' story mirrors those of all here. He is an undocumented worker from Mexico who has been in the U-S for twenty years.

    The economic downturn has left him without a steady job for two years and as a result, he lost the room he rented in Huntington Station.

    "There is no work," lamented Cervantes, who said he walks the streets daily in search of any paying job.

    The men survive on food donations and on the generosity of local churches, who provide them with meals and a place to sleep at night.

    But during the day, when no work presents itself, the men return to their camp in the woods.

    "We keep hoping things will get better, that jobs will come," said Cervantes.

    "But so far, that hasn't happened."

    Earlier this month, in the midst of a bitter cold snap, local law enforcement tore down the tents and drove the homeless men from the woods, fearing they might die in the frigid temperatures.

    However, since the homeless men are undocumented, Suffolk county would not offer them housing in local homeless shelters.

    Hispanic advocate Rev. Allan Ramirez called the actions, "inhumane," and added that other local municipalities offer help "with no questions asked."

    Suffolk officials say they have little choice and add that they have the same approach to sheltering undocumented workers as Nassau County and Westchester County.

    "Under New York State law, undocumented individuals are not eligible, under state regulations, for any emergency shelter assistance, leaving the cost and responsibility to the local counties," said DSS Chief Deputy Commissioner Edward Hernandez. "Suffolk County continues to work with non-profit organizations to help meet the emergency shelter needs of those homeless individuals who are undocumented and not eligible for municipal programs."

    It's unclear if the homeless men will again be driven from the woods. Ironically, the property is slated for a housing development. When he left us, carrying a backpack, Cervantes said he was off again to search for work.

    When asked if he was losing hope, he shook his head, yes and went on his way.