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Derelict migrant campgrounds hide among luxurious Hamptons homes

Illegal immigrants who mow the lawns and paint the mansions of wealthy Hamptons residents are forced to live in hidden cabins in the woods because the cost of housing on the summer playground of celebrities like Jerry Seinfeld, Billy Joel, Jay-Z and Beyoncé has hit The Post Experienced.

There are run-down camps dotted around the chic city of Southampton, including just off Main Street and in the seaside village of Westhampton Beach.

“I work for very rich people in the Hamptons, but I can’t afford a place to live,” lamented Juan Antonio Morales, 40.

“I’m paid very badly and an apartment costs too much money.”

The Post found the Guatemalan native perched on a ragged chaise longue in a wooded area behind an abandoned gas station on the Montauk Highway in Westhampton Beach last week – as Aston Martins, Mercedes-Benz and Range Rovers whizzed by nearby.

Morales said he spent most of the day hanging out at a nearby 7-Eleven store, where contractors pick up day laborers to work off the books.

Juan Antonio Morales speaks to the New York Post.
Juan Antonio Morales, a day laborer, lives behind an abandoned gas station in West Hampton.
Kevin C Downs
Homeless camp of workers in the forest behind a gas station.
Morales said he is paid too little to afford an apartment in the neighborhood.
Kevin C Downs
A look at the tent where Morales lives.
There are derelict camps around the small town of Southampton.
Kevin C Downs

“I work in big houses, which are very nice,” he said in heavily accented English.

Morales and other workers the Post interviewed said they had no idea who owned the lots they work on.

Morales, who has lived in the US for about 15 years and has a wife and two children in Guatemala, said he is typically hired two days a week and makes about $200 a day.

An abandoned gas station in West Hampton on Montauk Hwy and Oak Street in front of woods.
Morales said he spent most of the day hanging out at a nearby 7-Eleven store, where contractors pick up day laborers to work off the books.
Kevin C Downs

“Every day it’s happiness when I work,” he said.

“Maybe I would get more work in Guatemala, but I don’t have enough money to get home.”

Morales usually sleeps with other migrants in a makeshift tarpaulin-covered hut, but uses a piece of carpet hung over a line between two trees for shelter when the tents are full. He bathes in a gas station toilet, he said.

A man sleeps behind an abandoned gas station in West Hampton.
A man sleeps behind an abandoned gas station in West Hampton.
Kevin C Downs

Nely Lopez, a landscaper who is also from Guatemala, said he can sleep rent-free on a couch in an East Hampton apartment but prefers to live part-time at a camp behind the Southampton Full Gospel Church on Route 27.

“I sleep on cardboard here in the woods at least three nights a week,” Lopez, 38, told The Post. “I like it here.”

The forests where the camps are located are so dense and the camps so remote that workers are happy to leave their belongings there and even store expensive landscaping equipment.

A toy hangs on a tree in the camp.
Morales and other workers said they had no idea who owned the properties they work on.
Kevin C Downs

“I like the Hamptons,” said Julio Cardona Fuentes, 54. “It’s a safe place to live and there are no issues with migration or the police.”

One camp features a fire pit surrounded by discarded chairs and a table made from sawhorses.

A large tarp covers the seating area, which is surrounded by makeshift huts with mattresses and roughly hewn beds.

A pan lies in an extinguished campfire.
One camp features a fire pit surrounded by discarded chairs and a table made from sawhorses.
Kevin C Downs

But the residents are clearly not Boy Scouts, with mountains of rubbish – mostly beer and liquor bottles – strewn about.

“We all have a drinking problem, but there are no drugs here, just beer and cigarettes,” said painter Jorge Mendosa, 34.

“We are no danger to anyone.”

A mansion in the Hamptons sits on the water.
The Hamptons are famous for their luxurious and expensive homes.
TODOR ZVETKOV

Gina Webster of Westhampton Beach, whose home on Mill Road is near woods hiding a camp, said the situation was an open secret among residents.

“People like to pretend that homelessness doesn’t exist in the Hamptons bubble,” Webster said.

“It’s the Hamptons and we like to pretend there are no real problems here.”

The Legal Aid Society of Suffolk County, which says it counts some of the workers among its clients, described their situation as tragic.

“It is an absolute tragedy that we have hard working people working tirelessly to improve the lives of everyone who lives here but cannot afford a safe place to lay their heads,” said Bryan Browns , the organization’s chief legal operations officer.

“At the Suffolk County Legal Aid Society, thanks to the generous donations of ordinary citizens across the United States, we have resources like food, tents and clothing to help every homeless person in Suffolk County.”

Bottles are scattered around the camp.
Bottles of beer and liquor were strewn about the camp.
Kevin C Downs

Dan O’Shea, who runs Maureen’s Haven’s Riverhead homeless service program, said that “most of the communities” in Long Island’s East End have “people who live in the woods and can’t live anywhere else.”

But in an ironic twist, O’Shea said, the wealth of the area’s residents helps homeless workers fit in better than in other areas.

“You’re used to seeing a homeless man pushing a shopping cart down a city street,” he said

“The Hamptons are a generous community,” he noted. “The homeless often have brand new work boots from the church and could be wearing a brand new jacket given to them after a wardrobe promotion.”

https://nypost.com/2022/07/10/squalid-migrant-campgrounds-hide-among-luxury-hamptons-homes/ Derelict migrant campgrounds hide among luxurious Hamptons homes

JACLYN DIAZ

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