Sex offender trailers could close this summer

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

The locally despised trailers that have housed Suffolk County’s homeless sex offender population on the East End for the past four years will be closed in favor of an alternative housing plan, county commissioner of social services Gregory Blass said this week.

The county is moving forward with a proposal from a Brentwood-based vendor, Havens House, Inc., that calls for setting up small shelters throughout the county, each housing no more than six offenders. There the sex offenders will receive counseling, drug testing, job training and placement under the supervision of certified social workers. The housing plan also includes supervised leisure outings for shelter residents.

Mr. Blass said the trailers should close by the end of the summer.

“The trailers are being phased out as the plan becomes operational,” he said. “Then we have no need or desire to continue with the trailers.”

Havens House has not yet indicated to the county where or how many shelters it plans to build.

Under the current system, homeless sex offenders are taxied to and from the Riverside and Westhampton trailers nightly and are not required to report their daily whereabouts.

Under the Havens House proposal, each shelter would cost $473,935 to run per year, or $79,000 per sex offender. That works out to about $216 per day, per resident. That figure is subject to contract negotiation.

Mr. Blass said Monday the Havens House plan will cost the county more than the trailer program, though it will decrease transportation costs as the offenders will not have to be taxied to the shelter every day.

The county Legislature voted 14-3 last Tuesday to override Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy’s veto of a bill that lets the Department of Social Services consider the Havens House proposal. The Havens House application was initially rejected due to permit questions and because it was filed after a due date.

“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.

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

Mr. Levy — who has favored a $90 per day voucher system to house offenders in motels and elsewhere, as is done in Nassau and Westchester counties — has not given any indication that he will try to block the plan. But Dan Aug, a spokesman for Mr. Levy, said last week the new system could lead to lawsuits and public opposition, which could stall the shutting of the trailers.

“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.”

Legislator Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk), who sponsored the bill and whose district includes both trailers, told the News-Review earlier this month that if no alternative proposal is implemented and social services keeps putting the offenders up each night in the trailers, he would consider suing the county.

In April 2010, the legislature passed a resolution directing Mr. Blass to end the voucher program and find an alternative plan for housing the offenders.

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

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

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