CORAM, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- A homeless encampment was taken down in Coram, Long Island, after officials said 50 people had been living there in filth.
As CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff reported, the raid came after Suffolk County residents complained about fights, drugs and prostitution in the woods.
Candice, 56, said she is homeless by choice. She lives in the woods with her possessions stashed in shopping carts – her only income coming from bottle returns.
"I chose to live this way, yes," she said. "I gave up fighting the system."
She is not alone. Some 140 people in Suffolk County are considered unsheltered homeless.
"This is what they want to do – they want you know what I mean? Express themselves by staying outside and feeling free," one man said.
"Homeless people chasing everything trying to survive," another man said. "We're in Long Island."
The homeless in the area are often shrouded by woods and go unnoticed by the public. But on Thursday, Brookhaven town officials got a shocking eye opener when they raided an encampment off Middle Country Road in Coram.
"I've never seen anything like this," said Brookhaven Town Councilman Michael Loguercio. "It was deplorable conditions for any human being to be living."
A total of 50 people were living in filth in the shantytown. The town bulldozed eight tons of makeshift tents, mattresses and soiled clothing.
The ground was littered with human waste.
"We found hypodermic needles. There were weapons. There were drugs," Loguercio said.
The cleanup came after complaints from shopkeepers, who said shoppers are too afraid to come to the area.
"All the business not be good," one store clerk said.
Residents also have been complaining.
"They're living in the woods. They conduct business in the woods – prostitution, selling of drugs, using of drugs goes on here all the time," said Gail Lynch-Baily of the Middle Country Road Civic Task Force.
The property is owned by the town and the adjacent strip mall, so technically, the people sleeping in the woods are trespassing. But town officials said they are not looking to make arrests; the goal is to get the people in the woods help.
"We just don't want to kick them out and throw them into the street," Loguercio said.
CBS2 asked Suffolk County Social Services Commissioner John O'Neill if they are falling through the cracks. He said outreach is often turned down.
"A lot of times, they don't want help from government, and a lot of times, they want to remain on their own," O'Neill said. "Some have mental illnesses. Some may have substance abuse disorders."
On Friday, someone was already back in the woods that was just cleared. Social workers offered shelters, which he refused.
Town crews also found children's clothing littered at the encampment, but do not believe any children were living there.
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