Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone pledged last week to have a new program for housing the county’s convicted sex offenders in place by the end of the year, easing the burden on Southampton Town, which currently hosts the only two official housing facilities for the homeless offenders in the county.
In the meantime, one of those facilities, a residential trailer parked on county property in Westhampton that currently houses eight registered sex offenders, will be relocated and guards will be added to log in the residents each night. The trailer will be moved about a third of a mile to the west, behind the fence of a Suffolk County Police Department training facility. It currently sits just 50 feet from a senior citizen housing development.
Mr. Bellone, speaking at Southampton Town Hall on Thursday, May 3, and flanked by town lawmakers and Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman, said the relocation of the trailer and the heightened security would only be an interim measure and pledged to end the “era of terrible public policy” that has saddled Southampton Town with the county’s sex offender housing. The other county trailer now houses 20 registered offenders and is kept at the Suffolk County Jail property in Riverside.
“The Town of Southampton and the people of this town and the people of the East End have bore an unfair burden,” Mr. Bellone said. “My message here today is [to] end Southampton’s sole responsibility for housing homeless sex offenders for Suffolk County.”
It remains to be seen if either the Westhampton or Riverside trailers would ultimately be eliminated as the county rolls out its new housing program for the homeless offenders. That plan calls for the construction of six permanent residences that will be scattered around the county. Mr. Schneiderman, who led a five-year battle with former County Executive Steve Levy over the placement and the permanency of the trailers in Westhampton and Riverside, said he does not expect the South Fork to be freed from having to house a portion of the county’s sex offenders; rather, he expects to have the burden shared equally by other parts of the county.
Speaking before Mr. Bellone, Mr. Schneiderman and Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst recalled that when they were first commissioned five years ago, the two trailers housing homeless registered sex offenders were originally supposed to be moved every few months to new locations throughout the county, so that no one community would be stuck with the presence of a large number of registered offenders for an extended period.
But the trailers were never moved and Mr. Schneiderman’s repeated legislative efforts to force the county to relocate them were rebuffed, primarily by Mr. Levy, he said.
“It’s been five years of a constant battle,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “Every time I thought we were making progress or pass a bill, the former county executive would override them. [Mr. Levy] kept figuring out ways to not deal with this issue. But I believe that the era where irresponsible policy is put in place for the sake of political convenience is over.”
Last year, the county announced that a new program had been devised that will construct six permanent residences for homeless sex offenders, each housing up to six individuals. The county is contracting with a private company to choose locations for and to construct and manage the residences.
Mr. Bellone, as part of his campaign last year, promised to address the issue.
“Our disappointment in trying to work with the former county executive and the Department of Social Service on what was a consistent line of broken promises has had this community up in arms for years now,” Ms. Throne-Holst said. “What has been so heartening with our new county executive is that the minute he announced he was running for county executive, he promised us that this was going to be one of his priorities.”
Mr. Schneiderman said earlier this year that the company has identified four of the sites and is ready to begin construction on the residences. Last Thursday, Mr. Bellone said the county is not ready to announce the locations that have been chosen.
The 28 homeless sex offenders who stay at the Westhampton and Riverside trailers are required to report to the facilities every night, since all sex offenders must be registered at a physical address. Many of the released sex offenders living in the trailers are forced to stay there because of their inability to find suitable housing that is not restricted by one of several criteria that blocks them from living within certain distances from schools and playgrounds. At least one registered offender living in Southampton Town, Dwayne Moore, has sued the town in federal court over the its residency restrictions, which forced him to move out of a house he had purchased following his release from prison.