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Suffolk Family Now Formerly Homeless After Receiving Flexible-Rent House

BELLPORT, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- In the suburbs, the problem of homelessness has a different look, but it's a problem experts say is worse than ever, even if the breadwinners are working.

But as CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff reported, one family received a holiday gift Thursday: a new home.

The Harris family had been living in a shelter for more than a year.

"Who would think that they would be in a homeless shelter?" Nathaniel Harris said. "I make decent money. I had a decent bank account."

The Harrises are considered "working homeless," a categorization that is seeing growing numbers in the suburbs.

Things fells apart when downsizing eliminated Nathaniel's $60,000-a-year delivery route, as their rent jumped from $1,750 to $2,400 a month.

"With three kids in a house, groceries, bills don't stop coming because you stopped working," Nathaniel said.

"It was heartbreaking for me because all of this that he worked so hard for was just taken away so fast," said Danielle Harris.

They are the 85th Long Island homeless family to sign a flexible-rent lease. They'll pay one-third of their income. Nathaniel is now working a part-time job hauling concrete.

Community Housing Innovations says there are 600 other homeless families like the Harrises in Suffolk County alone.

"Today, there are more people living in poverty in the suburbs than in the cities," said Alexander Roberts, Community Housing Innovations' executive director. "It's a hidden crisis."

A new concept launched by the Suffolk County executive will help furnish their new home: tax-deductible gift certificates the public can buy and give directly to homeless families.

"There are things that happen in life that create difficult circumstances, and that's when that larger family matters, that larger community matters," County Executive Steve Bellone said.

"Everybody wants to try to get into the American dream, and this is a start," Nathaniel said.

"I'm more happy for the kids because they don't have to be in a shelter anymore," Danielle said.

The affordable rentals come furnished with little more than beds. The gift cards will give formerly homeless families money for linens, dishes and the things that make a house a home.

The gift cards can also be purchased for families in Nassau, Westchester, Dutchess and Orange counties. For more information, call 844-52-I-CARE.

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