Suffolk County’s controversial trailers for sheltering homeless sex offenders are scheduled to be closed by Memorial Day, according to East End legislators Jay Schneiderman and Al Krupski.
The county department of social services has said it will cease using the Riverside and Westhampton trailers as emergency shelter for homeless sex offenders before the end of next month, both legislators told RiverheadLOCAL Thursday.
But Schneiderman, whose Second Legislative District has been involuntarily hosting both trailers, which have the combined capacity to shelter up to 36 people and have been used to provide emergency shelter for all of the county’s homeless registered level two and three offenders for more than five years, says he’ll believe it when he sees it.
“I’ve been through this a lot, so I’m not declaring victory until they’re actually closed,” Schneiderman said of the trailers he’s fought to have removed since early 2007. “Too many times, I’ve gotten my hopes up and I’ve been disappointed,” he said in a phone interview Thursday evening.
“I want to drive the truck that trailer is hitched to,” Schneiderman said.
The county social services department first placed a trailer in the parking lot of the county jail in Riverside in early 2007, without notice to the legislator or the community. When the legislator and community members learned of its existence, county officials said the placement was temporary. The trailer would be moved from town to town, according to the DSS. But it was never relocated, and a second trailer was placed on county-owned land in Westhampton to shelter additional homeless sex offenders when the trailer in the jail parking lot was full. Both trailers remain operational despite the adoption of controversial measures authorizing alternative plans through the years — including the approval by the legislature of a resolution requiring DSS to shut them down.
Most recently, the Suffolk County Legislature voted in February to replace the trailers with emergency housing in men’s shelters throughout the county, as part of a new, comprehensive registered sex offender management and monitoring program introduced by County Executive Steve Bellone. That came after Bellone last May promised to close the trailers down by the end of 2012. On Jan. 3 this year, he said he’d have an alternative plan for sheltering the homeless registered sex offenders by the end of the month. On Jan. 31 he announced a plan to relocate them to men’s shelters around the county. The plan was adopted by the legislature on Feb. 5, which acted on a “certificate of necessity” from the county executive’s office, allowing the legislature to dispense with the normal committee process.
The homeless sex offenders will be relocated all at once, rather than one or a few at a time, both Krupski and Schneiderman said.
That will help prevent community backlash, Schneiderman said.
According to the state’s online sex offender registry, the trailer in Riverside is the registered address for 40 registered sex offenders, 11 of them classified as “sexually violent offenders” whose victims were young children. (See RiverheadLOCAL’s list — updated weekly— of offenders whose registered address is the Riverside trailer.) But that trailer can only hold 18 people. The Westhampton trailer takes the rest, though the Westhampton address is not always listed in the registry, Schneiderman said. That practice is confusing and defeats the very purpose of the registry — community notification, Schneiderman said.
“Nobody wants to have shelters for such criminals in their districts. That’s been the problem,” Schneiderman said.
“If this is truly the end of the East End bearing the county’s whole burden, it’s a great thing,” he said.
A spokesperson for the county executive could not be reached for comment before press time.