12/27/13 9:00am
12/27/2013 9:00 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | The trailer for homeless sex offenders on the Suffolk County jail property in Riverside.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | The trailer for homeless sex offenders on the Suffolk County jail property in Riverside was removed in May.

2013 was the year the homeless sex offender trailers went away.

For six years, the Suffolk County Department of Social Services kept two trailers on the East End as housing for homeless sex offenders — even though most of them were from western Suffolk. One trailer was kept in the parking lot of the Suffolk County jail in Riverside. The other was on county property in Westhampton.

When they were first introduced in 2007, the plan was that the trailers would be moved from community to community but that never happened and they stayed on the East End, much to the frustration of Riverhead, Riverside and Westhampton residents. Proposals to move or close the trailers were frequently shot down in county government, as legislators from western Suffolk feared seeing the trailers moved to their districts.

County Executive Steve Bellone, who inherited the problem when he took office in 2012, promised to discontinue use of the trailers by the end of 2012 but had to eat crow when that didn’t happen. It finally happened in May.

Editor’s note: We’re counting down the top 10 news stories of 2013. Check back every day until Jan. 1 to follow along.

08/15/13 2:00pm
08/15/2013 2:00 PM

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | This metal staircase and water pipeline are all that remains of the trailer that once housed homeless sex offenders in Riverside.

Three months ago, the homeless sex offenders housed in a faded white and blue trailer in the Suffolk County Correctional Facility parking lot were moved out, marking the victorious conclusion of a six-year battle by politicians and civic leaders.

And now, the trailer is gone, too.

The Riverside trailer, which had rested on cinder blocks next to employees’ parked cars, was removed over the weekend, leaving behind a patch of faded asphalt.

It had been too hard to move, so county workers simply traced around the trailer when they laid down the new parking lot.

A metal stairway leading to where its entrance had been and a few water and electrical pipes sprouting from the ground were all that remained of the trailer.

“That means we have an end to a long, long fight,” said Mason Haas of Jamesport, who was one of the strongest advocates for the trailers’ removal. “Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to sit out there with a beer and watch them go.”

Mr. Haas said he hopes other states look to the county’s new approach to housing sex offenders and learn from it, adding that without the support of residents and politicians, the trailers would never have been moved.

“You have to stay on government to get things changed at times,” he said.

The county-run trailers in Riverside and Westhampton had been operating since May 2007, a short-term solution that turned into a much longer stay.

The trailers were supposed to rotate among Suffolk County towns every three weeks to keep any one community from bearing the full burden, but that plan quickly fell by the wayside and the trailers became permanent.

Now, homeless sex offenders are now being housed in county-run shelters scattered throughout Suffolk. No shelter that serves families or children will take on a sex offender, county officials have said.

Though the sex offenders were long gone, the trailer remained an eyesore for the Suffolk County Sheriff’s office.

As he walked near where the trailer had been Wednesday morning, chief of staff Michael Sharkey scoffed and kicked a small piece of metal half buried in the dirt among the discarded chip bags and trash. It was a rusted harmonica.

“It’s one less headache to have,” Mr. Sharkey said. “We had nothing to do with the administration of it. It was just in the corner of our parking lot.”

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05/30/13 8:00am
05/30/2013 8:00 AM
PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | County Executive Steve Bellone announces the homeless sex offender trailers will close within the next three days.

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | County Executive Steve Bellone announces last week the homeless sex offender trailers would close.

The fight against placing two trailers for homeless sex offenders on the East End in 2007 was never a NIMBY protest. It was a pure and good fight. With good results.

Locals here acknowledged early on that both sexual assaults and the management of convicted offenders once they are out of jail are societal problems. Protesters in the Riverhead area and Westhampton said repeatedly at rallies and community forums that they would “take care of their own,” meaning they would house homeless sex offenders from the area.

Anti-trailer activists recognized that the county’s policy of taxiing homeless sex offenders into Southampton Town daily from all over Suffolk’s 900 square miles was not only unjust but immoral as well. The policy was immoral because it shifted the burden of managing offenders from the entire county to one town and, worse, put the safety of children living in some areas over that of children living in others.

The policy devalued human lives — our lives — and that’s what galvanized and inspired local protesters, turning them into an unstoppable force against what many perceived to be an immovable object: a county executive, Steve Levy, much more concerned with the population and voting base to the west, backed by county legislators content to send their undesirables to someone else’s district.

Along with the protests and op/ed columns, advocates were also working behind the scenes, meeting face-to-face with policymakers to help them understand why the county’s policy was so wrong. And many people in positions of influence were persuaded to help.

Then in March 2011, Mr. Levy — on whose watch the trailer policy was enacted and became entrenched — announced unceremoniously amid a DA investigation that he wouldn’t be seeking another term. That same month, when county executive candidate Steve Bellone stopped in Riverhead during a campaign “listening tour,” locals made sure he got an earful about the trailer policy.

“This has been a real education,” Mr. Bellone said. “We’ve been involved and very aggressive on the issue of sex offenders in Babylon for many, many years now. But what you are experiencing out here is unlike anything I’ve seen.”

Not long after taking office, the former Babylon Town supervisor pledged to shutter the trailers and implement a new, more just policy of housing and monitoring homeless sex offenders. This past weekend, Mr. Bellone made good on that promise, not because it was popular or expedient, but because it was the right and just thing to do. Now, through the Community Protection Act, Riverhead and Southampton Town residents must be prepared to make good on their promises and cooperate with town and county officials as they execute plans to house the offenders at shelters spread across the entire county — because that also includes our own backyards.

03/15/13 10:25am
03/15/2013 10:25 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO |  The inside of the trailer for homeless sex offenders place outside the Suffolk County Jail in Riverside.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | The inside of the trailer for homeless sex offenders place outside the Suffolk County Jail in Riverside.

In February the Suffolk County Legislature unanimously approved a law to redistribute about 40 homeless sex offenders who were housed in trailers in Riverside and Westhampton.

The plan was to spread the sex offenders out, one per shelter, at county-run facilities.

However, according to a Newsday special report, the county doesn’t have nearly enough facilities to comply with the new law.

“The county only has four shelters for single males and six that house male and female singles, according to figures reviewed by Newsday from the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless, a nonprofit that seeks to eliminate homelessness,” Newsday reported.

To read the full story, click here: Suffolk lacks enough sex-offender shelters

Previous coverage from the News-Review:

Sex offender plan approved; Riverside trailer to shut

01/30/13 10:32pm
01/30/2013 10:32 PM

TIM GANNON PHOTO | About 50 people attended a community forum on the county’s homeless sex offender trailers in Riverside and Westhampton Wednesday night at the county center, where speakers criticized the county for not removing the trailers after seven years.

Suffolk County’s new plan for dealing with sex offenders will be presented to the county Legislature’s public safety committee at 9:30 a.m. Thursday and it could be approved as early as next week, according to South Fork Legislator Jay Schneiderman.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone directed the county police department to develop “a comprehensive approach to better protect our communities from sex offenders” on Jan. 2, after failing to meet his own goal of eliminating the two homeless sex offender trailers in Westhampton and Riverside by the end of 2012.

Those trailers continue to draw concern from East End residents and officials, who say the county’s entire homeless sex offender population is being dumped on one town.

That was evident at a community forum hosted by Mr. Schneiderman (I-Montauk) at the county center Thursday night, where about 50 people gathered and vented their frustration at the county’s failure to remove the two trailers after seven years.

Mr. Schneiderman said he had spoken to Mr. Bellone the day before the meeting and had gotten some snippets of the new sex offender plan, which will be presented at Thursday’s committee meeting by Suffolk Police Chief James Burke and Laura Ahearn, Executive Director of Parents for Megan’s Law.

Mr. Schneiderman said he had hoped the new plan would have been ready before Wednesday’s forum, but it wasn’t. Mr. Bellone was not present, sending a member of his staff instead.

“The county executive said this new proposal would have the most intense monitoring of sex offenders anywhere in the country,” Mr. Schneiderman said. Mr. Bellone had originally planned to enact a plan the county legislature created in 2011, calling for the creation of six mini-shelters throughout the county, to replace the two trailers on the East End, which house about 40 homeless sex offenders, most of whom are not from the East End, Mr. Schneiderman said.

But Mr. Bellone felt it would take time to build these mini-shelters and each one would be met with intense opposition from neighbors, Mr. Schneiderman said.

So instead, he asked the police department to come up with a new plan that addresses not only the 40 or so homeless sex offenders but also the approximately 1,000 sex offenders who aren’t homeless in Suffolk County.

Mr. Schneiderman said the new plan could be voted on by the full Legislature Tuesday.

“The county executive said that if it doesn’t pass, he is willing to do the mini-shelters, but it is going to take time to build them,” he said.

Bill O’Leary, a forensic psychologist who worked with sex offenders and other criminals in conjunction with the police, said at Wednesday’s meeting that the average cost of putting a homeless sex offender in one of the trailers is $3,000 per person per month, whereas the average cost to house an ordinary homeless person is $309 per person per month.

“This is because of all the residency restrictions [placed on sex offenders],” he said. Living in the trailer hinders attempts to reduce recidivism in the sex offenders, he said.

“The better I do my job, the better chance someone won’t get hurt later,” Mr. O’Leary said. “I fought against the trailers because it compromises my ability to do my job. Instead of being able to get what they’re supposed to get from treatment, most of the ones sent back to jail are from the trailers, and are homeless. They are not getting anything from therapy, because they are worried about where they are going to sleep that night or where they are going to get food.”

Amy Davidson, who lives in downtown Riverhead, said she has two kids and worries about the proximity of the trailer at the jail parking lot to downtown Riverhead.

“I would like my kids to be able to ride their bikes to Ralph’s Italian Ices and know they are safe,” she said.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said it will be difficult to get the 18-member county Legislature to give up the trailers, because only two of the 18 represent the East End.

“The Town of Riverhead did a $104,000 budget transfer to increase patrols on Main Street,” Mr. Walter said. “Main Street is by far the heaviest patrolled area in the town, and that is in no small part because of this sex offender trailer.”

Mason Haas of Jamesport said the county is paying about $1.4 million a year to house the sex offenders in the trailers.

“This program is not working,” he said. “It needs to be fixed.”

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01/02/13 11:23am
01/02/2013 11:23 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | The trailer for homeless sex offenders on the Suffolk County jail property in Riverside.

County Executive Steve Bellone is urging Suffolk County Police Department officials to come up with a comprehensive plan to better protect residents from registered sex offenders.

No matter what the plan is, it must end the county’s policy of housing homeless sex offenders in trailers on the East End, Mr. Bellone said Wednesday.

The county currently provides overnight housing for homeless sex offenders who receive Department of Social Services assistance in two construction trailers, one in the parking lot of the county jail in Riverside and one on county police property in Westhampton.

Both are located in Southampton Town.

The trailers, which the county initially said would move to different locations, have remained in Southampton Town since 2007.

“We will develop the most stringent monitoring and enforcement program in the nation,” Mr. Bellone said in a press release about a larger plan to better protect the public from sex offenders living in Suffolk County.

Mr. Bellone has vowed to end the county’s current policy regarding homeless sex offenders within the first year of his administration but missed his January 1 deadline to close the trailers.

Legislator Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk) said although he’s “disappointed” Mr. Bellone failed to keep his promise, he’s “encouraged” about his new approach.

“I think those who are affected are losing patience, but hopefully not losing hope,” said of his Riverside and Westhampton constituents.

The Legislature approved last year a plan to create a “mini shelter” in each town that would provide 24 hour housing to no more than six sex offenders at a time. The program’s design would only allow housing for up to 36 homeless sex offenders, which Mr. Bellone’s spokesman Jon Schneider said the county executive has “concerns” about.

Since the county is currently responsible to provide housing for over 40 sex offenders, Mr. Schneider said the law would already have to be amended to either allow more than six sex offenders in a shelter or place more than one shelter in a town.

Mr. Schneiderman, whose district includes both homeless sex offender locations, agreed the mini-shelter plan is problematic but said he believes it’s the best way to “share the burden.”

On Tuesday, former County Executive Steve Levy criticized Mr. Schneiderman on Twitter saying, “Leg. Schneiderman says can’t move east end sex offenders on his own, but he blocked voucher plan that would have had them moved 2 years ago.”

Mr. Schneiderman described Mr. Levy’s comment as “inaccurate” and “phony” since he and former North Fork Legislator Ed Romaine cast the only “yes” votes for the voucher program.

Mr. Schneiderman said he voted in favor of the voucher program, which involves providing homeless sex offenders $90 a night to stay in a motel, even though he didn’t like it because he believed it was a better plan than the current trailer policy.

“He could have implemented the plan on his own as county executive if he wanted to, but instead he brought it to the Legislature when he knew it would fail, overwhelming” Mr. Schneiderman said.

When asked if the police department is taking another look at a voucher program in addition to de-clustering homeless sex offenders housing on the East End, Mr. Schneider said “everything is on the table.”

“The only thing not on the table is maintaining the trailer policy, which the county executive firmly believes is a burden on East End communities,” he said.

Mr. Schneider said the police department will work with other local agencies, advocacy organizations and mental health experts to determine how to strengthen the county’s overall approach in dealing with over 1,000 sex offenders.

He stressed there has been “far too much focus” on how to deal with the four percent that are homeless and believes the new direction of the discussion is needed in order to come up with ways to track and monitor the majority of county sex offenders.

The new plan is expected to be submitted to the Legislature later this month. County officials said the earliest the plan could be voted is at the Legislature’s Feb. 5 meeting.

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05/11/11 3:00pm
05/11/2011 3:00 PM

Five sites across Suffolk County have been presented as potential spots for new, smaller regional shelters for homeless sex offenders, according to a county official, but their exact locations are not being disclosed just yet.

A government source told the News-Review there would likely be no more than five shelters countywide, with only one on the East End, and that the East End location likely would not be in the Riverhead or Riverside, an area that has played host to all the county’s homeless sex offenders for the past four years.

The shelters, which would house no more than six offenders each, are planned as an alternative to the county’s current plan of placing its homeless sex offenders in two East End trailers, one on the county jail property in Riverside and another in Westhampton. The program has been criticized as unfair by East End residents and officials. The change to that program is required by county legislation approved earlier this year.

Legislators and representatives of the county’s Department of Social Services met Monday on this issue.

“The meeting was held, as mandated by the legislative resolution,” said Social Services spokesman Roland Hampson. “The legislators and their providers have presented five potential sites that the legislators will disclose when they reach their final decision.”

He said there could be more than those five sites. The county Legislature passed a resolution earlier this year mandating that no more than six offenders be located in each shelter, and that there be no more than one shelter per town or legislative district.
Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches), who represents the North Fork, said Wednesday, “This isn’t going to be done overnight.”

Mr. Romaine said two contractors the county selected to build and operate the shelters have many concerns that he felt were “legitimate issues.” For instance, will they be paid per bed, per shelter or per homeless sex offender served? If it’s the latter, there could be times when many shelter beds are empty — only about 28 people are housed in the trailers now — and they wouldn’t be paid anything. Mr. Romaine said the county is still working on developing a contract with the two companies, which could take two to three months.

“I’m hoping they will be open by the fall,” Mr. Romaine said of the new facilities. “I look forward to the day when the trailers are gone.”

Mr. Romaine said the shelter sites are not exempt from local zoning, which may prohibit such housing in certain areas, so the county is looking at state and county land as possible locations. The shelters are not permitted in residential areas, according to the resolution authorizing them.

Mr. Romaine said he believes the county will announce the locations of all the shelters at the same time.

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03/17/11 5:00am
03/17/2011 5:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The inside of the trailer for homeless sex offenders in place outside the Suffolk County Jail in Riverside.

The locally despised trailers that have housed Suffolk County’s homeless sex offender population on the East End for the past four years will be closed in favor of an alternative housing plan, county commissioner of social services Gregory Blass said this week.

The county is moving forward with a proposal from a Brentwood-based vendor, Havens House, Inc., that calls for setting up small shelters throughout the county, each housing no more than six offenders. There the sex offenders will receive counseling, drug testing, job training and placement under the supervision of certified social workers. The housing plan also includes supervised leisure outings for shelter residents.

Mr. Blass said the trailers should close by the end of the summer.

“The trailers are being phased out as the plan becomes operational,” he said. “Then we have no need or desire to continue with the trailers.”

Havens House has not yet indicated to the county where or how many shelters it plans to build.

Under the current system, homeless sex offenders are taxied to and from the Riverside and Westhampton trailers nightly and are not required to report their daily whereabouts.

Under the Havens House proposal, each shelter would cost $473,935 to run per year, or $79,000 per sex offender. That works out to about $216 per day, per resident. That figure is subject to contract negotiation.

Mr. Blass said Monday the Havens House plan will cost the county more than the trailer program, though it will decrease transportation costs as the offenders will not have to be taxied to the shelter every day.

The county Legislature voted 14-3 last Tuesday to override Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy’s veto of a bill that lets the Department of Social Services consider the Havens House proposal. The Havens House application was initially rejected due to permit questions and because it was filed after a due date.

“This could end up being a system that other states will want to mirror as they all are dealing with the same issue,” Mason Haas, a Riverhead Town tax assessor and outspoken trailer program critic, said of a potential new program.

“I am pleased that my colleagues saw the injustice that was being done to the East End,” added legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches), a co-sponsor of the bill whose district does not encompass the trailers. “[But] I am concerned the county executive may block any efforts to implement them.”

Mr. Levy — who has favored a $90 per day voucher system to house offenders in motels and elsewhere, as is done in Nassau and Westchester counties — has not given any indication that he will try to block the plan. But Dan Aug, a spokesman for Mr. Levy, said last week the new system could lead to lawsuits and public opposition, which could stall the shutting of the trailers.

“The Legislature has spoken,” Mr. Aug said. “We will await the vendor’s plan for what to construct and where to locate. It’s out of our hands at this point.”

Legislator Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk), who sponsored the bill and whose district includes both trailers, told the News-Review earlier this month that if no alternative proposal is implemented and social services keeps putting the offenders up each night in the trailers, he would consider suing the county.

In April 2010, the legislature passed a resolution directing Mr. Blass to end the voucher program and find an alternative plan for housing the offenders.

Legislators Steve Stern (D-Huntington), Lou D’Amaro (D-Huntington Station) and Tom Barraga (R-West Islip) voted against the override last Tuesday.

The state mandates that all counties offer housing to homeless people, including sex offenders.

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