Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone notified South Fork officials on New Year’s Eve that the county would not make the January 1, 2013, deadline for removing two trailers that house most of Suffolk’s homeless, convicted sex offenders from the town, as he had promised last summer.
In delivering the news to local officials, Mr. Bellone—who held a press conference in the lobby of Southampton Town Hall last spring to announce that he was making the homeless sex offender issue a top priority, and that the trailers would be removed by the end of 2012—did renew his pledge to have the two trailers, located in Westhampton and Riverside, vacated as soon as possible.
He said the turmoil following Hurricane Sandy primarily drew his attention away from the issue of the sex offender housing program.
“I’m certainly disappointed that January 1 is here and so are the trailers,” Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman said this week. “I understand that Sandy came along and everybody sort of lost a month. He still says he is committed to getting it done. We’ve waited an awfully long time—a month or two isn’t the end of the world. It’s just disappointing.”
The two trailers are parked on county-owned land, one at the Suffolk Police shooting range off Old Country Road in Westhampton and the other adjacent the Suffolk County Jail in Riverside—both of which are in Southampton Town. Since 2006, the trailers have been the county’s only official housing facilities for convicted sex offenders who have been unable to find private housing. When the trailer housing program was created, then-County Executive Steve Levy had claimed that they would be moved around intermittently to different townships, so that no one community ever had to carry the entire burden for the county. But the trailers were never moved.
Mr. Schneiderman said he was additionally discouraged by Mr. Bellone’s plans to include the closing of the trailers in a comprehensive homeless housing program strategy, which will be presented to the County Legislature early this year. Mr. Bellone, he said, says the plan will be ready for a vote of the legislature by the end of February. But Mr. Schneiderman said he didn’t understand why the trailer issue had to be brought before the legislature again.
“The most important thing is that we get the trailers closed,” he added. “My response was that I didn’t think this had to come back to the legislature again, which just seems like a whole new uncertainty to me.”
Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst echoed Mr. Schneiderman’s frustration that the trailers would remain for at least another couple of months. She was buoyed by the news that a broader plan to address the county’s homeless housing situation would be on the agenda for the winter, however, since county shelters at several hotels in Southampton Town have been a thorn in the town’s side for years.
“If this is a comprehensive revamp in the works that will address the homeless shelters and the sex offender trailers, we will certainly welcome that,” Ms. Throne-Holst said. “If we’re talking a month or six weeks and we get a good comprehensive program, that’s probably worth it. Needless to say, we’ll be watching these timelines.”
The county has developed a new sex offender housing program that calls for the creation of six mini-shelters, each capable of housing up to six individuals, scattered throughout the county. But the county has still not announced where any of the new shelters would be located, a step that is almost certain to draw outrage from the surrounding communities.
Most of the tenants at the two trailers, which can house up to 28 people combined at once, are homeless largely because of the numerous county statutes limiting where convicted sex offenders may live, in relation to schools, playgrounds and day care centers, regardless of whether their past offenses involved children or not. A lawsuit by a convicted sex offender from Southampton, Duane Moore, has challenged many of the sex offender statutes as unfair and speculation in legal channels is that the restrictions will be struck down by the court—a decision that would likely greatly reduce the county’s burden of finding places to house the homeless offenders.