The death of a homeless Greenport man who was sleeping in an unheated garage as bitterly cold temperatures continued to plunge last night has spotlighted an escalating crisis for those who have no shelter from the extreme weather.

On the East End, Maureen’s Haven and John’s Place provide the homeless with warmth, shelter, and hearty dinners, as well as bagged lunches, all served up by volunteers at area houses of worship.

But the frigid cold has posed challenges for the groups — and even with the life-saving services available, not every homeless person reaches out for help, according to Tracey Lutz, executive director at Maureen’s Haven.

Reflecting on the death of Germain Mendoza, 44, who was found dead in a Second Street garage — although his cause of yet has not yet been determined, Southold Town Police Chief Martin Flatley said the garage he was sleeping in was not constructed for habitation and had no heat — Lutz said in the five winters she’s been with Maureen’s Haven, she has not heard of anyone affiliated with the organization that has frozen to death.

Mendoza, she said, was a guest at Maureen’s Haven last year but had not sought assistance this year.

“We do have people who got frostbite and have had other health issues due to the cold,” Lutz said.

This year, the program has averaged between 38 to 40 guests per night, she said. “But with the bitter cold, our locations are taking more to ensure no one is left in the cold.”

However, she said, the grim reality is not everyone reaches out for assistance. “There will always be those that stay out of every shelter offered and stay in their tents or other type of shelter such as abandoned houses and storage units. I can’t say how many or even who they are, because we don’t come in contact with them. We only hear anecdotal accounts from the people that do come to us.”

According to the Huffington Post, “on Monday, the New York City Dept. of Homeless Services took Code Blue emergency measures, sending 15 outreach teams to comb the five boroughs in an effort to bring those 3,300 people inside and out of the elements.”

Some have argued that police should force the homeless in out of the cold.

“I’m not sure if police should force people but I do think the Red Cross should open some warming sites,” Lutz said. With the cold, she said numbers of homeless seeking services are slightly higher “but our locations are increasing max capacity to accommodate more. Our volunteers and congregations are wonderful.”

To those seeking shelter, Lutz added, “Maureen’s Haven provides safety and security for the East End’s homeless, particularly in these frigid temperatures. Please call us at 631-727-6831 or come to our day center at 28 Lincoln Street in Riverhead for assistance,” she said.

With an eye toward sheltering the most vulnerable from the cold, John Nieves of the Suffolk County Department of Social Services said work has been ongoing. “Suffolk County DSS has been proactively partnering with the Suffolk County Police Department and community-based organizations performing outreach to the homeless as early as mid-December 2014,” he said. “Anyone who is faced with homelessness does not have to remain in the cold.”

Those without shelter can call the county’s Temporary Housing Assistance Unit at 631-854-9517, Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Sheltering assistance is also available at the following service centers from Monday to Friday, between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Riverhead Center

893 E. Main Street
Riverhead, New York 11901-2542
Telephone: (631) 852-3500

Coram Center
80 Middle Country Road
Coram, New York 11727
Telephone: (631) 854-2300

Smithtown Center

200 Wireless Boulevard
Hauppauge, New York 11788
Telephone: (631) 853-8714

South West Center
2 South 2nd Street
Deer Park, New York 11729
Telephone: (631) 854-6600

After 4:30 p.m., weekends, and holidays, those in need of shelter are asked to call the Emergency Services Unit, at 631-854-9100. The Suffolk County DSS Emergency Services Hotline, 631-854-9100, is available around the clock on weekends and holidays and after 4:30 p.m. on regular business days. The Department’s Emergency Services Unit is equipped to handle any social welfare emergency including homelessness and heat emergencies.

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