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Send a gift card to a recently homeless family

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We’re all being asked to add one more item to our holiday checklists: gift for recently homeless family.

And shopping is easy.

Through the Fresh Start program launched today, anyone can purchase a Bed Bath & Beyond gift card to be delivered directly to a family that’s transitioning into permanent housing by calling 844-52-I-CARE. The cards can be for as little as $5.

Fresh Start is being coordinated by the Community Housing Innovations nonprofit group.

“The county has a furniture allowance for homeless families,” explained the group’s executive director, Alexander Roberts, at a special press event Thursday morning in Bellport. “They get a bed. They get a dresser. They get a coach. What they don’t get is the housewares and the linens and the pillows and the blankets and everything else that makes a house a home.

“You can do that now. You can provide a little bit of help and joy for a homeless family.”

“I called the number; it works,” said County Executive Steve Bellone, who presented a $100 gift card that he purchased to the Harris family, which will be moving into a Doane Avenue home after spending some 14 months in county shelters.

“You can call this number, too, and make donations, and give a little holiday spirit.”

Nathanial Harris had been earning $65,000 annual salary as a professional truck driver when his company downsized and he lost his job. Not long after, the family’s rent was raised by $700 per month.

The apartment complex, it turned out, had jacked up rents in order to renovate the complex to attract higher-income families, according to Community Housing Innovations.

He, his wife, Danielle, and three children ended up having to scramble to find temporary housing.

Harris has since found a job hauling concrete at $40,000 a year, but fears irregular winter hours could put a dent in his salary.

On Thursday, Nathanial and Danielle Harris signed a lease for the Doane Avenue house, which is owned by the nonprofit group. The family’s monthly rent will amount to 30 percent of their income, whatever that income might be.

“This is my first time going through this,” he said. “It’s always embarrassing, when your struggle so hard and you work. I’ve worked all my life. But just to receive this opportunity, that someone heard me, that someone actually heard me.

“I just really appreciate everybody for helping make this opportunity happen for us.”

“Most people think or feel that poverty and homelessness is a city problem,”Roberts said. “The fact is, there are more people that are living in poverty in the suburbs today than there are in the cities. We need to bring this out and discuss this fact.”

mike@greaterpatchogue.com

Top photo: Steve Bellone congratulates Danielle Harris as her son, Jaron, 16, and Alexander Roberts of the Community Housing Innovations look on. (Michael White photos)

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Nathanial Harris (right) with his daughter, Jocelyn, 17, son, Marius, 5, and Alexander Roberts.

About the author: Michael White

Michael White is a Bellport resident, longtime newspaper reporter and editor, and the owner of greaterpatchogue.com. Email him your story ideas or tips: mike@greaterpatchogue.com