Pols mull suing Suffolk to close sex offender trailers

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The inside of the trailer for homeless sex offenders in place outside the Suffolk County Jail in Riverside.

County Legislator Jay Schneiderman says he and his East End colleague Legislator Ed Romaine may take Suffolk County to court if it fails to start a new program for housing homeless sex offenders and continues putting them up each night in trailers in Riverside and Westhampton.

The Legislature last Tuesday in Hauppauge could have paved the way to ending the trailer program, but it fell three votes short of overriding County Executive Steve Levy veto of the bill that would have allowed the county to hire a company called Community Housing Innovations, or CHI. The CHI group wanted to run small shelters at several locations — which would have been undisclosed until they were up and operating — throughout the county.

But in another bill passed on Tuesday, the Legislature agreed to consider a second proposal from another shelter operation. Mr. Schneiderman said in an interview it’s the last step in his four-year fight to get rid of the trailers before he considers going to court with Mr. Romaine.

If Mr. Levy vetoes the bill and the Legislature again fails to override, he said all options, including legal action, would be on the table.

“We’ll know around the second week of March,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “If the county executive vetoes” the new bill, “he’ll probably do it by the end of this month.”

If the veto is overridden, Mr. Levy would have no choice but to let the Department of Social Services sign a contract with one of the two shelter operators because a law passed last year directed the county to implement a new shelter program by last October, Mr. Schneiderman said.

The county executive and the legislators all claim they want to end the current policy of shipping homeless sex offenders every night to Riverhead and Westhampton but both have supported different approaches. Mr. Levy has supported a voucher system through which homeless offenders would receive a voucher for up to $90 per day to find their own housing in motels. The Legislature voted against a voucher system last year.

Dan Aug, a spokesman for Mr. Levy, said the county executive had not yet decided whether he would veto the new bill. Mr. Aug said Mr. Levy didn’t like the CHI plan because it involved “secret locations.”

“We’re going to take a close look at the Haven House/Bridges proposal,” he said. “At the same time our same concerns could apply as had been the case with CHI, in that lawsuits and opposition could abound if this type of proposal goes into effect and the trailers would be open in perpetuity.

“The ironic thing is Mr. Romaine and Mr. Schneiderman and their colleagues snatched defeat from the jaws of victory when they killed the voucher plan,” he continued, “because that would have brought the closure of the trailers.”

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