Legislative victory could just end the trailer program

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

East End lawmakers have scored what could be a big victory in the effort to remove trailers that house homeless sex offenders in Riverside and Westhampton.

The county Legislature voted 14-3 Tuesday to override a Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy veto of a bill that lets the Department of Social Services consider the proposal of a private shelter provider to oversee offenders in industrial areas throughout the county.

And it doesn’t appear is if Mr. Levy is gearing up to block implementation of the new program.

Under the plan, proposed by Brentwood-based Havens House/Bridges Inc., six offenders would be housed at different sites throughout the county and there would be no more than one shelter in each legislative district or town. Offenders would also receive supervision and counseling.

The Haven House application was initially rejected due to permitting questions and because it was filed after a due date.

Another vendor’s pitch failed to ultimately win legislative approval because it involved keeping potential locations secret until they were up and running.

“This could end up being a system that other states will want to mirror as they all are dealing with the same issue,” Mason Haas, a Riverhead Town tax assessor and outspoken trailer program critic, said of a potential new program.

He said the difference between the two vendors is that the Havens plan, to his knowledge, does not require the locations to remain secret.

“I am pleased that my colleagues saw the injustice that was being done to the East End,” said legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches) whose district does not encompass the trailers. “[But] I am concerned the county executive may block any efforts to implement them.”

Dan Aug, a spokesman for Mr. Levy, said although the county executive favors putting offenders up in motels using daily vouchers, it is now up to Department Social Services director Greg Blass to determine whether or not to move forward with the Haven House plan.

But, Mr. Aug added, the new system could lead to lawsuits and public opposition, which could stall the shutting of the trailers.

Still, Mr. Levy does appear to be backing down from his push for a voucher program.

“The Legislature has spoken,” Mr. Aug said. “We will await the vendor’s plan for what to construct and where to locate. It’s out of our hands at this point.”

Mr. Schneiderman told the News-Review earlier this month that if no alternative proposals is implemented and social services keeps putting the offenders up each night in the trailers, he would consider suing the county.

Legislators Steve Stern (D-Huntington), Lou D’Amaro (D-Huntington Station) and Tom Barraga (R-West Islip) voted against the override Tuesday.

The state mandates that all counties offer housing to homeless people, including sex offenders.

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