A Plan B on vouchers for homeless offenders

06/03/2010 12:00 AM |

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy might include full funding in the 2011 county budget for a program that provides homeless sex offenders with daily stipends for food and lodging.

The voucher system would replace the county’s current policy of placing homeless sex offenders at two construction trailers at the county jail in Riverside and on county-owned property in Westhampton.

Full implementation of the voucher system, which Mr. Levy originally proposed in January, has been stalled for months as the county Legislature repeatedly voted against increasing the amount of monthly petty cash available to the Department of Social Services. Those funds are needed to get the program running.

“If the Legislature continues to refuse to fund the voucher system, the county executive will explore funding it in his 2011 budget,” said Mark Smith, a spokesperson for Mr. Levy.

In the meantime, homeless sex offenders are still sleeping in the trailers, though a few have been moved over to the voucher program, according to county officials.

Mr. Levy had recently described the voucher system, which is used in Nassau and other counties throughout New York State, as being on “life support” after the Legislature voted 14-4 to approve a bill that would bar it.

Mr. Levy on Wednesday vetoed that bill, which would also require socials services officials to find suitable locations for private shelters elsewhere across the county, on Wednesday.

Since the bill passed by 14 votes, 12 votes will be needed to to override Mr. Levy’s veto. Legislators will vote on the override Tuesday, and the bill appears to have enough support to survive.

It was not clear how the bill, if passed, would affect Mr. Levy’s plan to include the voucher program in next year’s budget.

Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, whose town encompasses both trailers, said that under the voucher plan, homeless sex offenders “will now be more likely to go back to their homes or hometowns” rather than be taxied to the East End each night to sleep.

She said the voucher program would be preferable to directing social services to devise a plan for housing offenders at smaller sites throughout the county, as the pending bill would instruct. “I just have no confidence that [finding several suitable locations] would in fact be achieved by this bill,” she said.

Still, the Legislature is free to delete items from Mr. Levy’s proposed budget.

“They propose, we dispose,” county Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches) said about the process of hammering out a budget between the Legislature and county executive’s office.

Mr. Romaine, whose district encompasses the North Fork — although not the two trailers — could not say whether he’d be for or against the budget line come November when the Legislature votes on adopting the budget. But he said the voucher plan is not, in his opinion, an ideal solution.

Meanwhile, the county faces pressure to provide running water at the two trailers. A state judge has deemed them inadequate due to the lack of running water. That ruling came after some of the 20 or so sex offenders filed a complaint about tight quarters and a lack of showers or toilets.

County officials have said the Riverside trailer would have to be moved to access to a water system because Riverhead Town would not let the county run sewer lines to a larger trailer it had intended to place there.

In Westhampton, the county tried earlier this month to replace the existing trailer with a newer trailer that would have hooked into an existing septic tank, but Southampton officials acquired a temporary restraining order to block that move.

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