Written by Rachel Shapiro Friday, 22 January 2010 00:00
Many Farmingdale residents expressed their dissatisfaction when Suffolk County officials recently teamed up with sympathetic Nassau County officials and declared the defeat of a proposed homeless shelter for sex offenders a victory.
The alternative to the shelter system residents so vehemently opposed is to go back to Suffolk County’s old system of housing homeless sex offenders with the voucher program. This allows registered sex offenders to find housing wherever they please as long as its location is within the boundaries set forth by Megan’s Law and is under the $90 cap Suffolk County is willing to pay.
Executive Director of Parents for Megan’s Law Laura Ahearn says there is no good solution to the problem of where to house sex offenders.
Many years ago the Brook Motel in Suffolk County had 17 sex offenders living there, Ahearn said. Two shelters, in Westhampton Beach and the Riverhead Correctional Facility, were created so homeless sex offenders would be under surveillance and away from residential communities.
“We’re going back in time now,” Ahearn told the Observer. “The whole reason behind the trailers was to prevent build up in motels.” With the shelters “We knew where they were. Security was monitoring the trailer.”
“None of the options are good options when it comes to where to house sex offenders,” Ahearn said. “The better of the worst options is at the Riverhead correctional facility.”
Many residents expressed outrage at details of the voucher system when it was introduced to them at the Jan. 12 meeting at Farmingdale High School. At the meeting, officials from Suffolk County announced that a homeless shelter for sex offenders would not be located in East Farmingdale, which is in Suffolk County, and that the whole county system for housing homeless sex offenders would be changed back to the voucher program.
By state law the county is required to provide emergency housing for homeless people regardless of things like past criminal offenses. Nassau County currently runs a similar voucher system for housing its homeless sex offenders.
“My question is why if they scrapped that [Farmingdale site] did they now scrap the trailers?” Ahearn said she was supportive of finding an industrial area to house the sex offenders, but not East Farmingdale where child-friendly businesses reside.
“No one wants to have sex offenders in their community,” Ahearn said.
She said there are 951 registered sex offenders living in Suffolk County. A small percentage, 35 people, is homeless in the county.
“The community has to be aware now that they’re getting a policy they didn’t expect,” Ahearn told the Observer. “I don’t believe if the community knew all the facts and knew what the implication would be that they would support it.”
“You have 35 people driving the policy for where they should be housed,” she said.
Ahearn said that she and Parents for Megan’s Law are working hard with the Suffolk County Legislature to limit the number of sex offenders that can reside in a particular hotel or motel so the county doesn’t find itself back in the same place it was years ago, with 17 sex offenders living in one place.
“They’re handing them a voucher and they’re going wherever they want,” Ahearn said.