Now that the ball has dropped in Times Square and a new Nassau County Executive and Suffolk County District Attorney have been sworn in, it’s time for the Human Services network to get to work responding to critical human issues that will continue to plague our region in 2018. Whether you create your own New Year’s resolutions or not, Long Island must be resolute in tackling a number of problems that continue to tear away at the fabric of life in modern suburbia.
First on this list is the Heroin and Opioid Epidemic, which continues to claim lives at alarming rates on Long Island. Both Washington, D.C. and Albany have proposed spending millions more in government funds to stop the flow of heroin to Long Island and support new treatment options. Addiction and drug treatment experts on Long Island have been advocating for access to 24-hour treatment, additional inpatient hospital beds, residential options, more community education, and increased street outreach to help those whose lives are being controlled by these and other substances. Our challenge now is to make sure these new funds reach Long Island sooner than later. Local government must partner with the human service sector to continue to raise awareness of addiction and treatment options in our region, and access to care must be free of barriers. Law Enforcement must continue to do their work of getting dealers off the streets and prosecuting offenders. Through a coordinated approach among our community organizations, we will succeed.
In December of 2017, Nassau County experienced a significant increase in Homelessness as a result of Governor Cuomo’s Executive Order requiring that the homeless be taken off the streets during the brutal cold and placed in shelters. More than 1,500 homeless adults and children were provided with shelter including, opening beds at Mitchell Field to house the overflow. We already know that there is a shortage of affordable housing on Long Island for young people and families that aren’t homeless. The challenge for local government is to collaborate with advocates for the homeless and organizations that assist them to develop more transitional residences, improve shelters with substandard care and create permanent affordable housing solutions such as the recent initiative through the Town of Southampton’s Housing Authority. The project known as Speonk Commons will be a 38 unit income restricted complex located directly across from the Speonk Long Island Rail Road train station. Additionally, we need to advocate for the expansion of the Section 8 housing program so those on the street can move into a safe, clean and supportive environment.
The challenge of Hunger and Food Insecurity continues to exist on Long Island even 38 years after the first regional food bank for Long Island was founded. This past year, Long Island Cares experienced a 19% increase in the number of people receiving emergency food from its three community-based assistance centers in Freeport, Lindenhurst and Huntington Station.
Of the 30,000 people assisted by Long Island Cares last year, one-third were children. Because of underemployment, relocation of new immigrant families, lack of affordable housing, illness, and the continued high cost of living, food pantries have become the quasi corner grocery store for Long Islanders in need. This year, Congress is proposing funding reductions to several social safety net programs that benefit the hungry including, Medicaid, SNAP, School Breakfast and Lunch Services, and Meals on Wheels. If Congress is successful in blocking money to some of these programs the number of people experiencing hunger will increase because depending upon where you live, each state will prioritize how and where funds will be directed.
There are certainly additional issues that our region will have to address in 2018, but my hope is that as a region, we’re able to put aside any political differences we have so that our residents who need our help receive it. It’s what has commonly been referred to as doing the people’s work.
Originally published in the HIA-LI Reporter, February, 2018