As winter came across the North Fork, Dan O’Shea, director of Maureen’s Haven in Riverhead, saw that the group’s homeless program at St. Agnes RC Church in Greenport was under severe strain.
Maureen’s Haven has been using the church’s shuttered primary school for several years from November to April to provide a place to sleep and use bathrooms for those in need. In previous years, the shelter was used twice a week during those months.
But his winter, when the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc, Mr. O’Shea saw the need to expand the number of nights the facility would be available.
“All of a sudden we were doing four and sometimes five nights a week in St. Agnes,” he said. “This put a lot of pressure on the facility itself, with the old school bathrooms not in the best condition to handle the number of people we saw every night.”
When Mr. O’Shea spoke to the parish administrator, Father Piotr Narkiewicz, the priest agreed: they needed help. He said he saw helping those in need as part of the parish’s core mission.
“We are here to serve; that’s what we do, ”said Father Narkiewicz.
Needing money to do the necessary work, Mr. O’Shea contacted Denis Noncarrow, the Southold Town government liaison representative. A solution was soon found.
“I could see the plumbing in the school was awful,” said Mr. Noncarrow. “The school was closed many years ago and everything was very outdated and not functioning properly. They had to have everything upgraded, including showers, to meet the need. “
Mr. Noncarrow said he reached out to someone who had helped in similar situations in the past and this benefactor pledged $ 60,000 to upgrade two bathrooms with modern plumbing and showers.
“We went back to this person and he agreed to help,” he said. “But he wants to remain anonymous.”
Maureen’s Haven provides a range of services to those in need, including providing shelter to the homeless during the winter months. While the locations change frequently, the group maintains about 14 locations, mostly in places of worship, from November to the end of April.
Volunteers bring those in need of assistance to locations that have space on a particular night, both on the North and South fork. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the shelters had to limit the number of people who could stay asleep during those months.
The former St. Agnes primary school has a large auditorium that, prior to COVID, could accommodate 30 or more people; with pandemic constraints, that number has dropped to about two dozen. However, the demand for more nights in operation increased sharply during the pandemic.
“When we saw what was happening, we realized that the bathrooms were not up to standard,” said Mr. O’Shea as he gave a tour of the facility.
On the day of the walk-through tour, Shelter Island contractor Dan Bartilucci crews laid new tiles in the school’s two bathrooms, modernized shower cubicles, and replaced nearly all of the old plumbing underneath the building that connects to the village’s sewage treatment system.
“The plumbing was absolutely broken,” said Mr. Bartilucci. “We are very happy to be able to do this work. I helped out to help with the tile costs. “
Father Narkiewicz came to Long Island from Poland in 2013. He first attended St. Isidore RC Church in Riverhead and was assigned to St. Agnes last year. As he watched the crews work on the bathrooms, he pointed out that the former school has a fully functioning kitchen that is also used for various programs.
Sitting in his rectory, Father Narkiewicz said, “This is a wonderful project. The school no longer exists, but the building is there. During winters here in Greenport there is a need to help people and this building is there to be part of the solution.
“We can’t let people out in those months,” he added. “This is what we have to do here. We don’t judge people. We help where we can. “
“If you judge people, nothing will ever happen,” said Mr. O’Shea.
“We don’t judge them or reject them,” added Father Narkiewicz. “We’re here for them.”
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