Sex offender trailers gone by Oct. 15? Maybe

09/23/2010 12:00 AM |

Now that the Suffolk County Legislature has approved a bill requiring a better way of dealing with homeless sex offenders by Oct. 15, those trailers where they have been housed near Riverhead and in Westhampton should be gone by then. Right?

It depends on who you ask.

County Legislator Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk), who sponsored the bill to set an Oct. 15 deadline by which the county’s Department of Social Services had to “implement” a new plan for dealing with homeless sex offenders, insists that the new program should be in effect by Oct. 15.

“That’s what the law says,” he said. “The trailers should be gone by Oct. 15.”

The county has trailers for sex offender housing in the Riverside jail parking lot, and in Westhampton. Local residents and officials say it’s unfair that all of the county’s homeless sex offenders who receive DSS assistance are kept at these two East End sites.

But DSS commissioner Greg Blass said the county attorney’s legal opinion is that a separate vote of the legislature will be needed to award a contract with a company to implement the new plan. The legislature’s next meeting is Oct. 12, which would make it unlikely that the new plan could be implemented by Oct. 15 if a vote is needed to award the contract.

As an alternative to the trailer housing, DSS set up a voucher program that allowed offenders to find their own housing. However, the legislature opposed that system and refused to fund it. Earlier this year, the legislature approved a resolution sponsored by presiding officer Bill Lindsay (D-Sayville) that ordered DSS to end the practice of giving housing vouchers to sex offenders, and to develop a new program to provide emergency housing to homeless sex offenders. It must allow no more than one shelter in any town or legislative district, and no more than six sex offenders in any one shelter. The bill also directed DSS to seek proposals from shelter providers to provide emergency housing for homeless sex offenders, and to provide oversight and counseling. The shelters would be required to have cooking facilities and showers, something the current trailers lack.

Mr. Schneiderman’s resolution simply puts an Oct. 15 deadline on the implementation of that plan. It was approved by the legislature on Aug. 3, but later vetoed by County Executive Steve Levy, who preferred the voucher system. The legislature overrode his veto last Thursday in a 12-6 vote.

“Our commitment is to solve this problem,” said Mr. Blass. “We want to have the legislature, the executive, the contractor and the [DSS] all on the same page.”

Because the issue has been so highly charged in the past, not having all parties in agreement may not resolve the acrimony, Mr. Blass said.

Mr. Schneiderman said another vote of the legislature is not needed because the approved bill gives the DSS discretion to choose a contractor to run the shelters.

Mr. Blass said the county has sought proposals from companies to run the shelters, but only one response was received that met the county’s requirements.

Mr. Blass said he had discussed the matter with Mr. Lindsay Tuesday and came away from that discussion “optimistic that this will lead to multiple sites, sharing the burden equally and the phasing out of the trailers.”

But he said Mr. Lindsay had not said whether a new vote will be needed to award the contract for the new shelters.

Mr. Lindsay had not responded to a call seeking comment by presstime.

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