Legislature: No more vouchers for homeless sex offenders

06/10/2010 12:00 AM |

Suffolk County will no longer be able to provide daily stipends to homeless sex offenders for temporary lodging.

Some critics fear that means the county’s locally unpopular policy of housing the offenders in construction trailers on the East End will continue indefinitely or, worse, leave the county with no option to house or monitor the offenders at all.

“By voiding the voucher system, the [Presiding Officer William] Lindsay bill has forced us to continue using trailers,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy told the News-Review. “If the trailers are closed by the courts, we will have a crisis situation where homeless sex offenders will be roaming the streets.”

Mr. Levy has argued that voucher systems are used successfully to house sex offenders in neighboring Nassau County and throughout the state. The county’s homeless sex offender populations are currently housed in two construction trailers, which lack showers and cooking facilities, on county-owned property at the Suffolk County jail in Riverside and in Westhampton.

The county Legislature Tuesday night voted 13-5 to override Mr. Levy’s veto of a bill that bans the county from using vouchers. The bill also directs the county Department of Social Services to find suitable locations for small private shelters housing no more than six offenders throughout the county.

The Legislature originally passed the bill in a 14-4 vote May 11. Mr. Levy vetoed that bill May 26.

Under the voucher system, homeless sex offenders are given up to $90 a day, though county officials say the true number averages to about $68, to pay for a meal and lodging in motels and boarding houses.

Officials have said that plan would save the county money since it already shells out more than $2 million a year taxiing the sex offenders to and from the trailers.

County Department of Social Services Commissioner Gregory Blass said the DSS would comply with the stipulations of the bill and would soon seek private shelters to house homeless sex offenders. “We are extremely disappointed that the voucher system must be discontinued as per Legislator Lindsay’s resolution and that we are forced to continue using East End trailers indefinitely,” Mr. Blass said.

Both Legislators Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches), whose district includes the North Fork, and Jay Schneiderman (I-Montuak), whose district spans the South Fork and includes the locations of the two trailers, voted in favor of the override.

Legislator Tom Barraga (R-West Islip) was the only legislator to change his mind and vote against overriding the veto this week, though he originally voted in favor of the bill. Mr. Barraga said when he voted for the bill, he was under the impression that the voucher system would not be dissolved until another program was in place.

“Logically, that’s the way the bill should have been designed,” he said.

A state judge late last year ruled the two East End trailers are inadequate due to their lack of running water. The county had attempted to install a larger trailer with showers in Westhampton, but it appears, due to another court ruling, that won’t be allowed to happen for awhile. A court decision handed down Wednesday blocks social services from hooking up any new trailers until a lawsuit between the county and Southampton and Riverhead towns is resolved, a process that could take months or years.

Mason Haas, a Riverhead tax assessor and outspoken critic of the trailer program, said that although he was not in favor of the voucher plan, he’s skeptical that other legislators would allow the smaller shelters anywhere in their districts.

“The bill directs Greg Blass to come up with locations,” he said. “But that doesn’t guarantee that legislators are going to allow them.”

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