Court ruling OK’s new sex offender trailer in Westhampton

11/03/2011 4:00 PM |

The court order barring Suffolk County from opening a new trailer for homeless sex offenders in Westhampton was lifted by a state appellate ruling last week.

But county Department of Social Services Greg Blass said in a statement Wednesday that the county doesn’t anticipate using the trailer anyway, because it’s moving forward with a new plan to house sex offenders in several smaller housing facilities that would be scattered throughout Suffolk.

The county has two trailers for homeless sex offenders, one in the jail parking lot in Riverside and one on county property in Westhampton.

A lawsuit brought by sex offenders challenged the conditions of those trailers, which have no showers, and had prevailed in court rulings. After that, the county brought a new, bigger trailer onto the Westhampton site that did have showers.

Southampton Town immediately went to court to contest this, saying it didn’t comply with zoning. State Supreme Court judge Thomas Whelan granted a preliminary injunction barring the “altering, expanding, replacing or changing the physical structure” of the trailers.

But the appellate court last Tuesday overturned that injunction.

“Although the injunction was found to be invalid by the Appellate Division, the county does not anticipate the expansion or other change to its existing use of the emergency shelters for sex offenders at the Westhampton site until the multi-site plan is implemented, the process for which is currently underway,” Mr. Blass said in a statement.

“We are at the stage where the housing provider, an agency in contract with the Department of Social Services, is selecting several sites throughout the county, pursuant to the county Legislature’s own plan, and the resolutions they have adopted to that end,” he said.

The multi-site plan calls for establishing smaller, supervised shelters with about six people maximum in each. These sites would be scattered at various sites throughout the county, and there would only be about six of them, according to South Fork County Legislator Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk).

Mr. Blass said Social Services would have preferred to institute a voucher system, in which homeless sex offenders under Social Service’s care would be issued vouchers for about $90 per night and they could find their own food and housing. But the Legislature rejected that.

Mr. Schneiderman said the process toward establishing the new sites is moving along, but some technical issues need to be resolved. For instance, the Legislature’s resolution requires them to be in industrial areas, yet most industrial zoned areas don’t allow residential uses.

Meanwhile, the existing sex offender trailers in Westhampton and Riverside do still house sex offenders, Mr. Schneiderman said.

But he expects that lawsuits challenging town and county regulations banning sex offenders from living near things like playgrounds and churches will prevail, based on what’s happening in other parts of the state, and that most of the county and town restrictions on where sex offenders can live will be overturned.

“One of the reasons most of the sex offenders are homeless is because of the various restrictions on where they can live,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “It’s hard for them to find housing because there are so many laws that affect sex offenders.”

Many of them will find housing and then be evicted because of these restrictions, he said.

“So far, the courts have said that only the state can restrict where sex offenders can live,” Mr. Schneiderman said. He expects other restrictions to be overturned.

State law says that sex offenders can’t live within 1,000 feet of a school, but county and town laws have added more restrictions.

He thinks that if these lawsuits brought by sex offenders prevail and town and county restrictions are struck down, it will become easier for sex offenders to find permanent housing, and there will be less of a need for the trailers or the housing sites being developed by the county.

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