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Safe Hiring Site For Day Laborers In Danger Of Closing

Ronny Reyes
The exterior of the Freeport Trailer in Freeport, Long Island.

One of the few sanctioned hiring sites for day laborers on Long Island is in danger of shutting down after it will lose about half of its funding next year.  

Unlike parking lots where immigrant day laborers often stand for hours waiting to be picked up, the Freeport Trailer is a place where they take work safety classes, learn English and study for citizenship.

Dozens of men from all over Latin America find themselves here in the small, red trailer at the end of Bennington Avenue in an industrial area of Freeport.

Jose fled from violence and crime in Colombia to try to find a way to provide for his family. We are using his first name because his visa is expired, and he could risk deportation.    

“The reason I’m here is that they robbed me of my means of income. They stole my taxi. They took my car, and I was left with nothing. So I decided to pack. I had my visa and I said, ‘I’ll go to the United States.’”

Jose enjoys the warm cup of coffee and a hot breakfast provided by the Trailer as he waits for contractors to stop by and pick up workers for the day.

Each morning, it’s first come, first served to get work at the Trailer, and contractors who pick up the day laborers need to sign in with their names and contact information.  

That’s to protect the workers.

These are the rules set down by Liz O'Shaughnessy, who restarted the hiring site eight months after Catholic Charities was forced to close it due to lack of funding in 2009.

“At that point I couldn’t believe that it closed because there were so many guys that were using it and I thought it was a really special place,” O'Shaughnessy said.

So she started the 501(c)(3) Compassion Love and Kindness, or CoLoKi, and Catholic Charities sold her the trailer for $1.

“And then we were back in business.”  

In addition to establishing connections between day laborers and contractors, CoLoKi holds ESL classes and other informational seminars on topics such as workplace safety or citizenship and immigration issues.

O’Shaughnessy and her part-time employee, Mirna Obers, encourage the men to attend these classes. Obers says they keep track of those who do through membership cards.

“It’s to give them a sense of identity, not animosity, because some of them, they don’t have papers. They are undocumented. And to have an ID, it gives them a sense that they exist.”

The Trailer is able to provide all this without the use of taxpayer money.

O’Shaughnessy says that by avoiding the use of public funds, the Trailer steered clear of the public outcry that shut down all the hiring sites on Long Island that used taxpayer money.

However, by not using public funds, the Trailer became dependent on the yearly grants it received from the Hagedorn Foundation, which funds nonprofits all over Long Island.

The Foundation is shutting down by next summer as it comes to the end of its 10-year mission, and the Freeport Trailer will lose about $65,000 in funding that it needs by next fall.   

“So we’ve actually just received our final grant check. After that, things will get significantly more difficult to replace that chunk.”

So O'Shaughnessy is teaming up with other Long Island nonprofits in order to start up a local fundraising project called Give Where You Live.

Although the project is in its infancy, O’Shaughnessy hopes it can help alleviate the loss of the funds from the Hagedorn Foundation.  

And Jose, who remembers what it was like when the Trailer shut down in 2009, doesn’t want to think about what would happen if he were to lose the Trailer again.

“No. They’re not shutting this place down again. Because we’re positive here. This place isn’t closing. I’m going to stay positive.”

If it closes, Jose says he will still show up at the site looking for work. The only difference will be that once again, he’ll be on his own.