by Karl Grossman
How to provide housing for homeless registered sex offenders in Suffolk remains a knotty problem. In recent years the county has placed them in trailers in Westhampton and Riverside —resulting in complaints from area residents. Southampton and Riverhead Towns brought lawsuits over the placements.
County officials have now come up with a new plan: the purchase of industrial buildings to be renovated for housing for the homeless sex offenders. This way, ostensibly, the offenders would be in industrial areas away from residences and, most specifically, children who some might molest, it is feared. The sex offenders include those in legal categories which identifies them as likely to repeat their crimes.
Among the industrial sites being eyed by the Department of Social Services are several in the Town of Babylon: in East Farmingdale, West Babylon and Wyandanch. But DuWayne Gregory, the county legislator who represents these areas, wrote just before Christmas to 300 civic and religious leaders: “We have enough homeless/emergency housing shelters, Section 8 housing, sober homes, etc. We do not need an entire homeless sex offender shelter dumped in our community, too.”
He has also suggested that the arranging of the housing for sex offenders in his district could be retribution for his clashing with County Executive Steve Levy. Mr. Levy emphatically denies that. And Social Services Commissioner Gregory Blass emphasizes that the locations in the Gregory district, some near cemeteries, the Babylon Town landfill and Republic Airport, were picked because of being in industrial locations distant from residential areas.
Race could be exacerbating sensitivity on the issue. Mr. Gregory is the only elected black Suffolk County official and his district has a large African-American population, especially Wyandanch. People in that hamlet for years complained, correctly, about not being properly served by town government.
Still, the county’s idea to use renovated industrial buildings for housing for registered sex offenders is, theoretically a good one. It’s “a great move,” comments Mason Haas, a Riverhead Town tax assessor active in protesting the trailer for sex offenders in Riverside. It is in the parking lot of the county jail, but across the Peconic River from Riverhead.
The Department of Social Services is applying for a grant from the state’s Homeless Housing Assistance Program to pay for purchasing and renovating the buildings. They would also serve as emergency housing for other homeless populations here. The homeless registered sex offenders, however, constitute the problematic category. There aren’t many: approximately 30, depending on the time period, out of 850 registered sex offenders in Suffolk.
In 2007, the county after having housed the offenders in motels, set up its first trailer for homeless registered sex offenders. It sits on Old Country Road in Westhampton on county property near the Suffolk County Police Department’s shooting range. County officials pledged in 2007 that the trailer would be moved every several weeks to different parts of Suffolk. That never happened.
The Westhampton trailer, instead, began being used for “overflow” from a bigger trailer set up the next year in Riverside. At a forum on the Riverside trailer, held last January at Riverhead High School, 300 people jeered county representatives. There were complaints about trailer residents coming into town and of one being arrested for indecent exposure. The locations nearby of schools and the Riverhead library were also noted. County officials stressed that Suffolk was mandated by the state to provide emergency housing for the homeless sex offenders. “Send them to Plum Island!” shouted one audience member.
State Senator Kenneth LaValle observed at the event: “In my years of experience, with the number of citizens who came out on a night like tonight, it’s rare that there will not be a solution of some sort.” The use of industrial buildings is the county’s attempted “solution.”
Dr. Richard Kreuger, a psychiatry professor at Columbia University who specializes in the management and treatment of sex offenders, has said that “sex offenders are almost labeled as nuclear waste; nobody wants them in their backyard.”