Be Kind: Residents organize to help neighbors after homeless shelter controversy

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Tuesday, July 13, 2021
Volunteers making sure homeless family gets back on their feet
Members of a Long Island community are coming together to help a father of five after their home was destroyed by a fire.

JERICHO, Long Island (WABC) -- Several residents in Jericho are now operating community organizations to help their neighbors in need in direct response to outrage over the creation of a residential center in Jericho to help homeless families.

"They think homeless is a man doing drugs on the street," said Francine O'Connor who started Jericho Cares. "It's not that. These are families. These are kids."

O'Connor launched Jericho Cares last summer after seeing protests against the Jericho Family Support Center.

The Center was supposed to be located in the vacant Hampton Inn on Jericho Turnpike and would help up to 80 homeless families with job placement, job training and a host of social services, including educational services for children. It would change the zoning of the building, however.

Eyewitness News was there in August 2020 when those with Concerned Jericho Parents held a rally outside the administrative building of the Town of Oyster Bay to protest the center.

The plan for the center was put on hold where it still stands in legal limbo.

"I was just so appalled that people in our community would be treating people like this and were so unkind," O'Connor said.

O'Connor and a host of her volunteers now deliver meals every week to homeless families living in motels in Jericho. She puts together care packages for families in need, helps sponsor birthday parties for homeless children and puts on clothing and food drives.

"We see what a difference we're making in everyone's lives," she said.

Paula Geslani, of Jericho, started Weapon of Kindness after volunteering with O'Connor.

Geslani said she, too, was upset at seeing people protest the Family Support Center.

"I don't think people realized they were actually hurting other people," she said.

Geslani, O'Connor and others came together to form the Jericho Kindness Coalition.

Geslani recently raised $9,000 to buy a car for a father of five who was supposed to move into the Jericho Family Support Center.

Richard Sams had been living at the Edgewood Motel in Jericho, which was walking distance to his job as a sales associate at Home Depot.

He was only weeks away from moving into the Family Center when the Center was put on hold.

"My heart was broken," he said.

Sams and his children, ages 18, 17, 16, 15 and 13, had to move into a shelter in Hempstead. It took Sams two hours by bus to get to his job. He would sometimes take an Uber or taxi.

"As soon as I earned the money, I had to spend it right back on car fare," he said.

Geslani met Sams while volunteering with O'Connor delivering food to the Edgewood Motel.

Geslani contacted Thomas Connor, the owner of TOMCO Auto Repairs in Bethpage, to help find the minivan.

Last week, Connor drove to Newburgh to purchase the car at auction. He also fixed the car for Sams at no cost, paid for two years of the car's registration and offered Sams a year of maintenance for free.

"Whatever he needs," Connor said.

Sams was teary-eyed as he expressed his gratitude to O'Connor, Geslani and Connor.

"There are actually some real caring people in the world," he said.

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