After Christmas lights and extension cords went missing twice from a display on the corner of Route 105 and Flanders Road, a group of Flanders residents determined not to let a thief steal Christmas collected hundreds of donated lights and gathered at the intersection yesterday to install the display a third time.
“We went there motivated by anger and frustration,” said Bayview Pines Civic Association president Ron Fisher. Their anger and frustration has mounted over the past few months as residents have coped with escalating crime, including an armed home invasion and a fatal shooting and a rash of car break-ins and vandalism.
“We were mad,” said Susan Tocci, “and we weren’t going to let whoever was doing that win.”
But what they discovered when they set about to put up the lights again shocked and saddened them.
The missing extension cords were still plugged in to the power outlet. The cords ran a few hundred feet into the woods — to a makeshift tent where a young homeless man was living.
The electrical cord had been covered — and hidden — by leaves.
As Fisher tugged on the cord, following it from the roadside sign back into the woods, the young man emerged from his tent and ran off.
The extension cord was powering a string of lights and an electric heater inside the tent. There was a pot of water with potatoes in it. A small stuffed animal — a teddy bear — hung from the pole that held up a plastic tarp. There was a pair of adult sneakers and a wallet inside the tent.
There was also a campfire pit nearby.
Fisher said the man was of slight build and young — he estimated between 17 and 20 years old.
The group of residents was stunned by what they saw.
“We happened upon that and it totally changed the tone of the afternoon,” Fisher said.
“It seems unfathomable that people are living in the woods around us, invisible to us,” he said. “That guy’s tent wasn’t more than 20 feet from somebody’s property.”
From that moment, everybody was all about “How can we help this person,” Fisher said.
Tocci said they spent a lot of time discussing what to do. “Should we bring him food? Blankets? Try to get him help?”
Fisher said it was hard to process what he saw and he can’t shake the images.
Homelessness is all around us, Flanders Riverside Northampton Community Association president Vince Taldone said this morning. “It is right under our noses but invisible to us in our everyday lives. You know it’s out there, but finding something like that makes it so much more personal.”
“You just become instantly so grateful for what you have,” Fisher said.
The wallet found inside the tent contained a Social Security card issued to a Latino male.
Sister Margaret Smyth, who runs the North Fork Spanish Apostolate, which ministers to and advocates for the Latino community on the North Fork, said the surname on the Social Security card was familiar to her and her organization would look into it.
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