Suffolk County officials announced last week plans to shut down two homeless sex offender trailers in Riverside and Westhampton, a move the public has been wishing for since the trailers came to the East End in 2006.
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Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman hosted a public forum January 30 at the Riverhead County Center to discuss the homeless sex offender program and potential options for housing them. Schneiderman, along with Southampton Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter, Legislator Al Krupski, Riverhead Town Assessor Mason Haas, and other officials discussed with the public how and when to rid the East End of the full burden of housing all of the county's homeless sex offenders.
Although County Executive Steve Bellone was not present, Schneiderman said he had spoken to him earlier that day.
"The county executive thinks the trailers were bad public policy," Schneiderman said. "And he made a public commitment to end it at the end of 2012."
Schneiderman added, although Bellone was unable to fulfill his wishes to close the trailers by the end of last year, the legislator said the county executive had a new plan to permanently close the two trailers. That new plan was revealed last Thursday morning in Hauppauge.
According to Schneiderman, the focus of the plan is to ensure that sex offenders would not be clustered in any one neighborhood, but instead, be spread more equitably across Suffolk County.
According to Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke, the police will work with the Social Services department to transfer the 40 or so homeless sex offenders currently being housed in trailers in Southampton Town into the county shelter system. No more than one offender would be housed per facility and the offenders would be housed away from homeless families.
"The current trailers compromise people getting what they are supposed to from treatment," said Bill O'Leary, a forensic therapist who works directly with sex offenders who are on parole and probation.
"I've fought against the trailers from the beginning because it compromises my ability to do my job, because my job should be the same as what everyone else wants, which is to try and reduce the risk of another child or adult getting hurt," he said.
O'Leary also added that the county residents pay about $3000 per month to house each offender in the trailers. That equates to about $1.3 million a year.
Police officers would be required to make regular checks on all sex offenders to ensure they haven't registered with false or outdated addresses. Parents for Megan's Law, a nonprofit agency that works to prevent and treat child sexual abuse, "will strengthen and support the Suffolk County Police Department's program that verifies the addresses of all registered sex offenders within the county," according to a press release from Schneiderman last Thursday.
Schneiderman and other officials present at the public forum the night prior said if the proposal doesn't pass in the legislature, which was expected to be voted on as early as yesterday, then an alternative plan from Bellone for six "mini" shelters would be installed throughout the county.
"The legislative body needs to work together and come up with solutions so these people can have success in their treatments," said Riverhead Councilwoman Jodi Giglio at the January 30 meeting.
It is estimated that Bellone's mini shelters would cost about $4 million.
"Nothing would please me more than to see the trailers go," said Hank Beck, chair of the Westhampton/Speonk/Remsenburg/Eastport/Quogue CAC. "Southampton has had to bear the load of two homeless sex offenders trailers in the whole county. The Town of Southampton has done its fair share of work."
Southampton Councilman Chris Nuzzi agreed. "Southampton Town should not be the repository for all of Suffolk's burdens," he said. "There's an inherent issue of fairness here. Seven years is a long time, but I really believe County Executive Bellone wants to solve the problem."
The timeline for implementation for integrating the homeless sex offenders into the regular homeless shelter system is still uncertain. Timing will depend on how quickly the legislature acts.