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Jun 13, 2012 10:16 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

County Moves, Opens Larger Sex Offender Trailer In Westhampton

Jun 13, 2012 11:17 AM

Acting on a promise Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone made earlier this year, the county has moved a trailer housing eight homeless registered sex offenders in Westhampton behind the fence of the Suffolk County Police shooting range off Old Country Road.

As part of the move, which is the first step toward halting the use of the site as sex offender housing altogether by the end of the year, the county has begun using a newer, larger trailer that has shower and bathroom 
facilities for its tenants. A guard is also being posted at the trailer.

The county brought the new trailer to the Westhampton property more than two years ago, but was precluded from using it after Southampton Town secured a court injunction after the county moved in the trailer “under the cloak of darkness,” as Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst put it at the time. The county ultimately won the lawsuit and a judge declared last year that a new trailer can, and should, be used to improve the living conditions for the tenants. But the county never hooked up the new trailer.

The town and county have been jousting over the Westhampton trailer for years, as the town has long been the only place the county has housed its homeless sex offenders. Another 20 men live in a trailer parked in the shadow of the Suffolk County Jail in Riverside.

But earlier this spring Mr. Bellone said the days of Southampton Town bearing an unfair burden, and strife between the county and town over the issue, will soon come to an end as the county shifts to a new program that will house the homeless sex offenders in small, permanent housing that will be scattered throughout the county. In the meantime, with the legal détente, using the newer trailer only made sense, county officials said.

“The new facility is more humane—that old trailer is a piece of junk,” said Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman, who battled former County Executive Steve Levy on several occasions over the use of the Westhampton trailer. “The [new] county executive has said that both trailers will be decommissioned by the end of the year and this is an interim measure to move it further away from that community.

“It’s not great, but it’s better,” he continued. “We’re trying to be better neighbors.”

Before it was moved about a quarter of a mile and behind the fence surrounding the shooting range, the two trailers sat barely 50 feet from the edge of the Westhampton Pines housing development. The old trailer is now being used for storage and, Mr. Schneiderman said, there will be no increase in the number of men housed at the Westhampton property.

The county’s new plans for housing its homeless sex offenders calls for six permanent residences to be constructed in six different townships, each housing just six people each. The county has hired a consulting company to select the sites and construct the residences, though Mr. Schneiderman said the program has not yet been officially put in motion by the county—for reasons he was unclear on. The consultants said they have identified four suitable sites thus far for the new residences, though they have not been made public. At a press conference with Mr. Schneiderman and Southampton Town officials in May, Mr. Bellone acknowledged that the town had been bearing an unfair burden for years but did not say that Southampton would not be home to one of the future permanent residences.

Many of the county’s homeless sex offenders are homeless only because they have been unable to find housing that they are eligible to live in due to county laws that prohibit them from living near schools, playgrounds and day care centers. But a federal lawsuit filed by a registered sex offender living in Southampton Town could unravel the county’s web of restrictions as the judge hearing the case has hinted that the county laws may be unconstitutional. That ruling could potentially reduce the number of homeless offenders for whom the county must provide temporary shelter.

On a related point, Ms. Schneiderman said the county budget for 2013 included $600,000 to relocate the “burn pit” on the Westhampton property—the area where Suffolk County Police dispose of and detonate explosives and fireworks. The pit will be relocated to another part of the 60-acre property, away from the residential neighborhoods that border it.

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