New York Times

A working-class corner of Long Island is staring at a riddle posed by hard economic times and wondering what to do.

Huntington Station is a microcosm of America in the age of suburban immigration. Shops sell pizzas and pupusas in a business district that has been revitalized by Latino entrepreneurs but has a long way to go. Stately Victorians loom among tidy townhouses and shabby rentals. Not far from a platform where bankers board the train to Manhattan, immigrant men sleep in the woods. In the middle of it all, on Depot Road, are day laborers, 100 or more, in rain, shine or snow.

When home renovation and landscaping were booming, day laborers made the good times possible. They were a cheap, convenient way to get hard work done and were treated with tolerance. A hiring site was set up on Depot Road so they could wait in shelter and safety. Now that the local economy has flat-lined, their lives are far harder. A hundred men will gather on a typical weekday. Maybe three will find work.

The Town of Huntington is grappling again with old complaints about groups of men standing around. Last summer, in a regrettable turn, the town passed an ordinance forbidding anyone from looking for work on public property. Now it is considering phasing out its financing for the hiring site.

The town supervisor, Frank Petrone, has supported the site since it opened a decade ago, calling it a pragmatic answer to a problem of traffic management. He wonders whether it is wise to keep spending money on a hiring site where hardly anybody gets hired.

Peggy Boyd, who works for the Family Service League, a nonprofit organization that runs the site with financing from the town and two private foundations, is acutely aware of the conundrum. She and her colleagues have kept the place going, getting to know 90 to 100 of the men who gather there to find not just jobs, but also food, warm clothing and English lessons.

She understands that money is tight. But she also knows that it will take a financial meltdown far harsher than any we have seen to make the laborers disappear.

Mr. Petrone deserves credit for resisting — so far — the simple solution, which is to pull the plug and to chase the laborers into the shadows. That would defy common sense and the Constitution. The town should commit itself to keep some services going, and thus keep homelessness, vagrancy, and blight at bay until the good times return.

And until then, the Suffolk County executive, Steve Levy, could also step in, with funds and leadership, to show the rest of Long Island how a community helps all its members, in good times and bad.


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