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Jun 21, 2011 3:05 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Suffolk County Hopes To Finalize Deal Soon To Close Trailers Housing Homeless Sex Offenders

Jun 22, 2011 8:43 AM

While there is still no word on exactly when two trailers in Southampton Town currently housing all of Suffolk County’s homeless sexual offenders will be shuttered, county officials said they expect to finalize a deal soon with the vendors that will be charged with providing that service—at several facilities that still must be built—once the trailers close.

Suffolk County Department of Social Services Commissioner Gregory Blass, in an interview last week, said his department was still in negotiations with both Haven House/Bridges Inc. in Brentwood, and Community Housing Innovations in White Plains on a deal that would be the first step toward closing the trailers. He said he would like to have an agreement worked out before the end of June.

The larger trailer, which can house around two dozen people at one time, is located on the grounds of the Suffolk County Jail in Riverside, while the second trailer, located off Old Country Road in Westhampton, near the Suffolk County Police shooting range, is typically utilized when the Riverside trailer is full to capacity.

Once a contract is finalized, the plan will be to replace the trailers with several shelters that would be spread across the county. The shelters, which would each house up to six people at one time, are expected to provide security 24 hours a day, seven days a week, as well as job training and counseling for the homeless offenders.

Suffolk County officials have previously stated that they will not disclose the locations of the facilities until they up and running, but stressed that they will not be concentrated in a single municipality, as is the case with the trailers. Both opened in 2007 and have remained in Southampton Town since then.

Both Mr. Blass and Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman of Montauk, whose district houses both trailers, have said that they do not know if one of the permanent shelters would be located on the South Fork. In a previous interview, Mr. Schneiderman said that a smaller number of homeless sex offenders most likely would be housed somewhere in his legislative district, which spans from East Moriches to Montauk Point.

According to the most recent figures provided by the Suffolk County Department of Social Services, the Riverside trailer houses, on average, between 17 and 18 sex offenders each night, while the Westhampton trailer houses an average of four people each night.

Though he hopes to soon have deals with both firms, Mr. Blass said his department still has the option of contracting with only one of them if negotiations hit a wall—which is something that he does not anticipate happening at this point.

“We are very hopeful that we can negotiate with both firms successfully,” he said. “We are seeking guidance from the legislature and we are trying to go every step of the way with them.”

Mr. Blass explained that the locations of the permanent shelters would ultimately be up to the vendors, although he stressed that the county still intends to shutter the trailers in Riverside and Westhampton. Site selection, he added, will begin once the contracts are finalized with the vendors.

To date, a number of different locations have been discussed, such as industrial parks and county-owned properties that are not close to residential neighborhoods. The vendors, however, would have to clear those locations with both county officials and the Suffolk County Police Department to ensure that their placement would not violate laws that forbid released sex offenders from living near schools, playgrounds and other places where children typically congregate.

Community Housing Innovations had originally bid on the job, but Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy vetoed its proposal earlier this year and the Suffolk County Legislature failed to override the veto. The Brentwood firm’s proposal—also vetoed by Mr. Levy—obtained the necessary override votes in the legislature in March. The White Plains firm was then brought back to the table, according to Mr. Blass.

While he declined to get into specifics about the ongoing negotiations, Mr. Blass said the county and vendors are still working out issues.

But Mr. Schneiderman said he has heard that one of the sticking points is how the firms would be paid for housing the homeless sex offenders. The Brentwood firm is normally paid on a “head count” basis, meaning that the amount it collects is based on the number of sex offenders who are being housed, according to Mr. Schneiderman. The problem, he said, is calculating how to pay them when the individual shelters are not filled to capacity.

Suffolk County Legislator Ed Romaine, whose district includes Riverhead Town, which is located close to the Riverside trailer, said he was very optimistic that the shelters would be operational by next year. He declined to blame Mr. Levy, who is not seeking reelection this fall, for derailing the legislature’s efforts to offer the shelter program; instead, Mr. Levy was pushing for a voucher system in which the offenders would have been given $90 per night to stay at local motels and hotels, though county lawmakers opposed that program.

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