New plan could end trailer program

Suffolk County is considering a plan that, if adopted, would put an end to the locally despised policy of housing its entire homeless sex offender population on the East End.

The plan, submitted July 1 by White Plains-based contractor Community Housing Innovations Inc., would find four sites throughout Suffolk County, no more than one in each legislative district or town, to house six offenders each. No other proposals have been submitted to the county’s Department of Social Services.

The White Plains contractor does not indicate how much its program would cost the county in the proposal.

Suffolk County currently houses all its 30 or so homeless sex offenders at shelters — really just cot-lined construction trailers with no running water — at the Suffolk County jail in Riverside and on county-owned property in Westhampton.

The county Legislature passed a bill in June rejecting another proposed program that would have given the offenders a daily stipend for food and lodging at motels. That bill also directed social services to come up with an alternative housing plan within 30 days.

Finding an alternative to the trailer program became a necessity after a state judge ruled late last year that the two East End trailers are inadequate due to their lack of running water. Also, a trio of homeless sex offenders served the county with a lawsuit in June over what they described as deplorable conditions at the trailers.

Under the contractor’s plan, sex offenders staying in county housing must stay sober, adhere to a curfew, actively seek employment and refrain from viewing pornography.

The proposal also emphasizes finding long-term housing and employment for the homeless offenders.

A crucial component of the plan, which has raised questions among some elected officials, is that the contractor hopes to keep potential housing locations secret until plans are finalized — to avoid local opposition.

“Securing and occupying this site without advising the local community until after it is established is a critical component of this proposal,” the proposal reads.

Once the locations are established, social services would have 30 days to notify the legislators representing those districts, who would then set up community advisory boards to oversee the shelters.

“The program will take steps to insure that [homeless sex offenders] have as little contact as possible with the surrounding community,” the CHI proposal states.

The Legislature on Tuesday approved a bill introduced by Legislator Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk), whose district includes both trailers, directing social services to abolish the trailer program and implement a new plan by Oct. 15. It was not clear if the plan pitched by the White Plains contractor would be adopted.

Social services deputy commissioner Ed Hernandez said the department would most likely be able to meet that deadline — if suitable spots is found in time. “That is going to be the difficult part,” he said. “Nothing is going to work without the commitment of everyone involved.”

He added he hopes the legislature will get behind the contractor’s plan.

Mason Haas, a Riverhead Town tax assessor and outspoken critic of the trailer program, said that keeping the locations secret is a good component of the only plan floated so far, even if it meant that one of the shelters is ultimately placed in Riverhead. He said that notifying the public of the locations could cause hysteria and misinformation.

“We have always said that we will take our share,” he said. “This takes politics out of it.”

County Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches), whose district spans the North Fork, said that although he had not been provided with a copy of the proposal, it sounded to him like a preferable option to both the trailer and voucher options.

He said he would not object to a shelter in his district, as long as it’s not near a residential area and the homeless sex offenders are properly supervised. “On face value it seems better than what we have,” he said. “I’m cautiously optimistic.”

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