Bryan Downey watches the weather forecast closely in the winter because he knows that if he doesn't offer his acquaintance Pedro Moreno a heated place to sleep when frigid nights are in store, Moreno will never ask.
Moreno, 52, has been homeless in Sag Harbor for about five years, often sleeping in sheds, garages and, in the summer, outside on the beach.
For the third winter now, Downey, a contractor and musician, has offered Moreno a bed in his recording studio. "He doesn't take handouts," Downey said. Moreno insists on compensating him with yard work and other tasks.
Moreno is a house painter by trade and does drywall and spackling, but has worked many jobs including landscaping, moving furniture and restaurant work — "Whatever pays the bills," he said when interviewed by Patch Thursday. He asked not to be photographed.
Born in Cuba, Moreno came to Miami when he was 1 year old. Then, in 1980, after a three-day trip to the Hamptons, he decided to take a job offer and stay. "I was single, so I said, 'Why not?'" he said.
A Different Hamptons
Things were different then in the Hamptons, Moreno said. "If you found a car in the street in December, it was a miracle." Now it's much more crowded.
He spent 17 years living in Springs, near Three Mile Harbor, then moved to Sag Harbor 15 years ago two blocks from Trout Pond, sharing a house with a group of laborers.
But when the owner sold the house five years ago the tenants went their separate ways. He hasn't had permanent housing since. The cost of rent these days is unbelievable, he said. "Everything's gotten so expensive."
Moreno is one of the more than 3 million homeless people in the United States, estimated by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, a crisis the organization blames partly on the lack of affordable housing.
Tracey Lutz, the executive director of Maureen's Haven, an East End nonprofit that provides overnight housing and meals to the homeless at various houses of worship between Nov. 1 and March 31 each year, said her organization has seen an uptick in homelessness recently. Maureen's Haven served 252 homeless people during its 2010-2011 season, up 20 from the year before, and is already seeing an increase this season, especially among women, Lutz said. These are people who lost their jobs recently and have run out of friends' couches to sleep on, she said.
"You cannot just
give up on life
and pack up."
Despite how hard it is to scrape by in the Hamptons, Moreno said he loves Sag Harbor and has no plans of leaving. "You cannot just give up on life and pack up," he said.
In the summer he can always find work, as second-home owners come out for the season, he said. "People need their yards cut, painting — everybody works."
The off-season is a different story. "Sometimes I work for two or three weeks straight, then it stops for a month," he said.
But Moreno says he wants for nothing — except a roof over his head — and never goes hungry. He gets food from restaurants he does odd jobs for. If he is really struggling at the time, he'll go to the Sag Harbor Food Pantry at the , where he can also get used clothing, though he said he is not a regular visitor to the pantry. "That's for people who need it more than I do."
Help From His Friends
Downey and Moreno know each other from a local cafe, Java Nation, where they both go to enjoy coffee and company.
Downey said he has to keep his studio heated to 55 degrees anyway because of the computers, so it would be crazy not to let Moreno sleep there when it is 35 degrees warmer than what he'd be faced with otherwise. But even though Moreno has his phone number, Downey says he never calls, so he must track him down and insist on it.
Downey noted that Moreno doesn't drink or smoke. "He's clean cut too," he said. "He shaves more than I do."
Over Facebook on Wednesday, Downey asked friends if anyone had work for Moreno and a place to stay for a few nights. He got an offer back from a woman in Sagaponack offering a room in her mansion, but Downey said it was of no help to Moreno because he doesn't have a car to get back and forth to Sag Harbor, where he works, has friends and can get everywhere on foot. "You don't need glamor when it's cold," Downey said.
Do you know someone who's been unable to make ends meet living in the Hamptons? Email Brendan J. O'Reilly.
You can find more articles from this ongoing series, “Dispatches: The Changing American Dream” from across the country at The Huffington Post.