South Fork County Legislator Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk) has submitted a bill directing the county Department of Social Services to close the homeless sex offender trailer it operates in Westhampton, but not the one in the jail parking lot in Riverside.
The two trailers were established during the administration of former county executive Steve Levy to house all of the county’s homeless sex offenders who receive social services assistance.
“I put in a bill to close the trailer in Westhampton because I have a little bit more support to shut that one than I do for the one in Riverhead,” said Mr. Schneiderman, who has in the past called for both trailers to be closed, in an interview Monday. “The one in Westhampton is next to a senior center, so you get a little bit more sympathy, there are other legislators who feel that’s appropriate.
“It’s hard to get that support for closing the one at the jail because people think that’s where they belong. If I can get one of them closed, I will.”
Mr. Schneiderman said the Westhampton shelter “is literally 30 to 50 feet from the nearest residence.”
He said he’s also making a push to get the county to follow through on implementing an alternative program approved last year that would build smaller “mini-shelters” at scattered site locations in the county to house the homeless sex offenders.
The shelters would provide supervision and counseling, but the program still hasn’t been started.
Mr. Schneiderman thinks that by closing the Westhampton trailer, which holds about eight sex offenders (the Riverside one has about 22), it would push the county to accelerate its plans to house homeless sex offenders in the mini-shelters.
“I’m really pushing hard to make something happen right now with the mini-shelter program, but I’m also asking them to please, in the interim, close the Westhampton trailer as a show of good faith,” he said, “because that is literally on top of people, whereas the one at the jail — I don’t want to see it in [Riverside] but at least its not on top of some body’s house.”
The first four mini-shelter sites are all in Western Suffolk but Mr. Schneiderman believes there will eventually be an East End site, and there will be controversy over where that will be located. He thinks the county may try to keep the Riverside trailer in the interim.
Mr. Levy opposed the scattered site program and favored a voucher system instead, whereby the sex offenders would be given a voucher and choose where to stay themselves.
But new County Executive Steve Bellone, in a statement emailed to the News-Review late last Wednesday, appears to support the new program.
The statement read: “I agree with the concept that homeless sex offenders should be placed at scattered sites around the county. The current situation is patently unfair to the east end and I am committed to changing it. I believe we need to reexamine how we are managing the sex offender issue in this County and that review is underway. Undoing the policies of the last administration will take some time but we are committed to making the change.”
Mr. Schneiderman’s bill to close the Westhampton trailer was discussed Monday morning at a meeting of the Legislature’s human services committee. North Fork Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches), who has called for the closing of both trailers, is on the committee, but could not be immediately reached for comment.
Mr. Schneiderman is not on the human services committee and was unaware it was being discussed Monday morning.
Pick up the March 22 News-Review newspaper for more information.