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Aug 4, 2010 1:27 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

New homeless sex offender plan in the works at county level

Aug 4, 2010 1:27 PM

Suffolk County is considering a plan that would ensure that the burden of housing homeless sex offenders, which currently rests squarely on the shoulders of Southampton Town, would be spread throughout the county in a program managed by an outside firm, lawmakers said.

Last month, a White Plains company proposed running a program in which homeless sex offenders in Suffolk County would live in six separate facilities in non-residential areas and be monitored “24/7,” according to Michael Pitcher, a spokesman for William J. Lindsay, the presiding officer of the Suffolk County Legislature.

As mandated by a recent act of the legislature, no more than one facility could be located in any one of Suffolk County’s 18 legislative districts or in any one of its 10 towns, and each facility could house no more than six homeless sex offenders, Mr. Pitcher said.

“The concept was to spread the burden around after Southampton Town bore the entire burden for years,” he said.

For the last three years, homeless sex offenders, once they are released from jail, have spent their nights in one of two Suffolk County-owned trailers, both in Southampton Town: one in the parking lot of the Suffolk County Jail in Riverside, and a second near the Suffolk County Police shooting range on Old Country Road in Westhampton.

Community Housing Innovations Inc. of White Plains submitted its proposal in response to a request by the Suffolk County Department of Social Services, which is working to enact an alternative to the current trailer system after it was ordered to do so by the Suffolk County Legislature this summer.

Mr. Pitcher said Mr. Lindsay has not released a copy of the Community Housing Innovations proposal because it is marked “confidential.”

In an attempt to rule out the trailers in Westhampton and Riverside, Suffolk County briefly ran a voucher system earlier this year in which the estimated 20 homeless sex offenders in Suffolk County were given $90 per day to find their own shelter. But in April, the legislature passed a resolution that put an end to the voucher system and directed the Department of Social Services to come up with a new program.

“The voucher system was really a disaster waiting to happen,” said Mr. Pitcher, whose boss, Mr. Lindsay, sponsored the legislation that terminated the program. While the resolution was initially vetoed by Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy in May, the legislature overrode the veto by a 13-5 vote in June.

In his April resolution, Mr. Lindsay wrote that the voucher system was “unacceptable” because it undermined Megan’s Law, which mandates that information regarding sex offenders is available to the public. The resolution said that the voucher system allowed homeless sex offenders to stay “in close proximity to families and children.”

The resolution also mandates that the new program set up by the Department of Social Services be “equitable, cost effective and provide some measure of oversight of sex offenders.”

On Tuesday, the Suffolk County Legislature passed a measure mandating that the Department of Social Services implement a new plan by October 15, according to Legislator Jay Schneiderman of Montauk, who sponsored the legislation.

“I thought it was important that there’s a timetable for implementation,” he said

Mr. Schneiderman said that, as per the Community Housing Innovations bid, Suffolk County would not have to notify communities of the homeless sex offender facilities before they are set up. On Tuesday, Mr. Schneiderman introduced legislation mandating that any facilities be located at least 1,000 feet from the nearest residence, although the legislature did not vote on that resolution yet.

“You can’t really stop a sex offender from moving in next door, but a home full of sex offenders? That’s a different story,” he said.

Mr. Schneiderman also said that he supports some aspects of the Community Housing Innovations proposal, which he said comes with a price tag of approximately $1 million.

“There are many good elements,” he said. “There is an emphasis on getting these people out of temporary housing and into permanent housing.” In addition, he said, Community Housing Innovations proposed to provide rehabilitative services for the sex offenders. “That’s important because we want to reduce the risk of recidivism,” he said.

Mr. Schneiderman acknowledged that if a new system is created under the guidelines passed by the legislature, there’s still a possibility that the county will house some homeless sex offenders in his district, although not all of them.

Community Housing Innovations was the only firm to submit a bid to Suffolk County to run the homeless sex offender program, according to Mr. Pitcher. The county approached five firms seeking bids, he said.

“It’s not a done deal at this point, but I’m sure its actively under review,” Mr. Pitcher said.

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