For the obscenely wealthy and unpardonably white, the Hamptons has long been synonymous with escapism: Former Today show anchor and alleged sexual predator Matt Lauer sought its refuge when he was terminated for sexual harassment; Kourtney and Khloe Kardashian took up temporary residency in the snobby string of seaside communities as the former dealt with her eroding relationship; and who could forget the great “white-collar quarantine” of 2020, which saw scores of rich city-dwellers and celebrities fleeing virus-laden urban sprawls in lieu of uninfected sands?
In a positively American plot twist, the woods of the Hamptons have also recently become the site of a series of encampments for migrant workers who maintain the communities’ many mammoth estates, yet can’t afford to obtain their own place to live.
A staggering report from the New York Post has revealed that several “squalid” encampments have been established by migrant workers in Southampton and in the waterfront village of Westhampton Beach. That’s right—the very individuals forced to subject themselves to the back-breaking labor of sustaining the splendor of the seaside retreat for the nation’s elites have no choice but to live amongst the thicket, due in-part to the soaring cost of residency.
“I work for very rich people in the Hamptons but I can’t afford somewhere to live,” Juan Antonio Morales told the Post. “I am paid very little and an apartment costs too much money.”
The outlet found Morales, a native of Guatemala, laying on a dilapidated chaise lounge in the woods behind a Westhampton Beach gas station that’s no longer functioning. Morales, who’s worked in the country for 15 years and has a wife and two children in Guatemala, said he spends his days in a nearby 7-Eleven, where contractors often find day laborers happy to work off the books. He told the Post that he typically gets hired two days a week and takes home just $200 a day. He, alongside other migrant workers living in the woods, sleeps in a makeshift shack and bathes in a gas station restroom.
“Maybe in Guatemala I would get more work but I don’t have enough money to get home,” he said.
Another worker, Julio Cardona Fuentes, said that despite the conditions, he liked the Hamptons for its safety and because there’s “no problems with migration or police.”
Like several other encampments that have emerged across the nation—from Florida to California—a resident told the outlet that the communities concealed by the woods were an “open secret.”
“People like to pretend homelessness doesn’t exist in the Hamptons bubble,” she said. “It’s the Hamptons and we like to pretend real-life problems don’t exist here.”
How ironic that the remainder of the country seems to possess a proclivity for pretending—and anti-homeless policy—too!
In May, the Daily Mail reported that thousands of homeless people were living just miles from “the happiest place on earth” in similar encampments constructed with tents, tarps and the like, amidst high temperatures and a lingering pandemic. Many, including a family of seven, reported that they’d fallen on hard times as the coronavirus spiked and, following layoffs, could no longer afford a $1,300 apartment. Currently, Florida has the third largest homeless population. Miles away, in Miami, an encampment ban that empowered police to arrest people living on the streets and confiscate their birth certificates, medication, and even family photographs was instituted in October 2021.
On the West Coast, a similar and controversial ban was established last week in Los Angeles. Homeless encampments are no longer allowed within 500 feet of schools and daycare centers. At the start of 2020 alone, there were 66,400 people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles. A recent study found that the climbing number wasn’t due to drug or alcohol dependency despite what the national narrative typically indicates—it’s an increasing lack of affordable housing, as in the Hamptons, Florida, and a number of other American cities.
These heart-wrenching stories and statistics make me ill as I tap through a fresh onslaught of Instagram stories depicting masses of white influencers and celebrities enjoying their all-expenses-paid weekends to East Hampton and Montauk. And no, it’s not the exhaustive documentation of the chicken finger tower at Surf Lodge that appears like three tiers of overpriced frozen shit served lukewarm, or the backyards littered with cans of High Noon. It’s more the thought of who’s forced to clean it all up and the equally appalling, unfair conditions they return to upon clocking out.