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Apr 21, 2010 1:46 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Residents, lawmakers, call for distributing homeless sex offender population

Apr 21, 2010 1:46 PM

At two separate events this week, Suffolk County officials and East End residents called for evenly spreading out the homeless sex offender population throughout the county’s 18 legislative districts.

On Thursday, Suffolk County Legislature Presiding Officer William Lindsay unveiled a resolution that directs the Department of Social Services to end its $90-a-night voucher program—which gives homeless offenders money for food and lodging—and come up with a new housing initiative that distributes the homeless sex offender population throughout the county. And on Saturday, a group of nearly two dozen officials and residents led by County Legislator Ed Romaine and Riverhead Tax Assessor Mason Haas gathered at the Suffolk County complex in Riverside to call for the closure of the controversial sex offender trailers located there and in Westhampton.

Mr. Lindsay, a Democrat from the 8th District, said he plans to introduce his resolution at the next legislative session, on Tuesday, April 27. He said the voucher system is flawed because it offers no oversight of the offenders and it would be better if no more than one shelter is placed in each district, in places away from residential areas. Rather than close the shelters, he would spread them out and they would be supervised around the clock, according to his proposal.

“I would like to see a system more fair and equitable,” Mr. Lindsay said.

After the resolution is introduced, it will go to the Health and Human Services Committee for consideration.

“It’s a sign of real hope that there might be a cooperative effort on the horizon,” said Gregory Blass, the commissioner of Department of Social Services.

Legislator Jay Schneiderman, an Independence party member whose 2nd District hosts both trailers, said that he worked with Mr. Lindsay on the proposal.

“It’s the first time we’ve seen something that looks like a plan,” he said on Saturday, after the rally.

Suffolk County placed a trailer for homeless sex offenders near the jail in Riverside and another off Old Country Road in Westhampton in 2007 and promised to move them through the county on a rotating basis, but officials reneged and the East End has rallied to get the trailers moved. Residents in the surrounding communities have said the trailers are placing an unfair burden on them since most of the offenders are from western Suffolk County.

Earlier this year, County Executive Steve Levy announced that the trailers would be closed and the county would transition their 
residents to the voucher program, but the legislature has since 
refused to increase funding for the switch.

Four homeless sex offenders are using the voucher system now and 17 are staying in the trailers, according to Mr. Blass.

Many residents still want the trailers shut down, and several of them gathered on a drizzly and chilly Saturday to send that message to lawmakers. About two dozen people held signs that read “share the burden” and “protect our children” and marched along Route 24 to the front of the jail facility.

Carol Smith, who has lived in Remsenburg for 50 years, showed up to protest. “I’m dead set against these trailers,” she said.

Andrea Spilka, president of the Southampton Town Civic Coalition, and she hopes the shelters are spread out soon. “This shouldn’t be any one community’s problem,” she said.

Brad Bender, the president of the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association, agreed.

“We can’t be the house of homeless sex offenders,” he said.

Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter and Town Board members Jodi Giglio and George Gabrielsen attended the rally, along with Mr. Schneiderman. No Southampton Town officials attended.

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