Latest homeless offender plan could cost $1.6M

The cost of housing homeless sex offenders at four small shelters throughout Suffolk would be double that of a hotel voucher system but perhaps less than the current trailer system, under a proposal recently submitted to county’s Department of Social Service.

The plan, submitted on behalf of the White Plains-based non-profit Community Housing Innovations, Inc., would cost about $180 a day per offender because it includes 24-hour supervision, the company’s director, Alexander Roberts, told the News-Review. The proposal also calls for counseling services and a heavy emphasis on finding long-term housing and employment for the offenders.

The county currently houses about 25 homeless sex offenders in construction trailers at the Suffolk County jail in Riverside and on county-owned property in Westhampton. Housing 25 homeless offenders at $180 a day would cost the county about $1.6 million annually.

The county Legislature passed a bill in June rejecting another proposed program that would have given each offender a daily stipend of $90 for food and lodging at motels. The motel voucher program is used elsewhere in New York State, including neighboring Nassau County. That bill also directed social services to come up with an alternative housing plan within 30 days.

It is not clear exactly how much it costs to operate the trailer program, although the News-Review reported last year that the county spent over $300,000 in 2008 on transporting the offenders by taxi to and from the makeshift shelters and about $35,000 on maintenance and security.

But the number of people who use the program has since grown, and some county legislators estimate total transportation costs to be closer to $2 million per year.

So far, the White Plains contractor has been the only organization to submit to the county a plan to house homeless offenders.

William Lindsay (D-Holbrook), presiding officer of the county Legislature, said more nonprofits should have had the opportunity to submit a bid so the county could compare prices and find a model that best suits its needs.

“It’s always good to get multiple quotes,” he said. “But I don’t think that is the number one issue here.”

Mr. Lindsay said he’d asked Department of Social Services commissioner Greg Blass to change the parameters that determine which shelter providers can submit bids. He said the commissioner had agreed and he anticipates that more shelters will submit bids in the near future.

Mr. Lindsay said that keeping communities safe is more important than saving money by using the voucher program, which contains no provision for supervision of the offenders.

“I know the people in my district, [safety] is what they want,” he said. “That is expensive. You could save some money [using a voucher system] but you don’t know what kind of trouble these guys can get into.”

County Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches), whose district encompasses a slice of Brookhaven Town and all of the North Fork, but neither of the trailers, said that although the latest proposal costs more than the voucher program, the added security it offers would be worth the money. Mr. Romaine said he hasn’t seen the proposal and the county Legislature had not yet discussed it publicly.

“The voucher program has no controls,” he said. “We don’t know if [the motels are] in a residential area. There was no safeguarding.”

The county’s current policy of housing its homeless sex offenders at the two trailers has drawn major criticism because it concentrates that entire population on the eastern end of a geographically large county. Late last year, a state judge ruled that the trailers were inadequate because they lacked running water, and in June a trio of homeless sex offenders served the county with a lawsuit over what they described as deplorable conditions at the trailers.

Mr. Romaine said he believes the latest plan might actually cost less than the current trailer program.

“First and foremost the trailers must close and all other things flow from that,” he said.

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