Sex offender trailers shutting by Tuesday

One of the sex-offender trailers owned by Suffolk One of the sex-offender trailers owned by Suffolk County Photo Credit: Handout, 2007

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The East End trailers that have housed homeless sex offenders and sparked community complaints will be shut down by Tuesday, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announced.

Twenty-six men remaining at the Riverside and Westhampton facilities will be moved to motels and homeless shelters throughout the county -- no more than one per location, Bellone said Friday at Riverhead Town Hall, where he received applause from local officials.

"We've overburdened these communities for much longer than any community should have to bear," Bellone said of the trailers that have sat near the Riverhead and Southampton Town border since 2007.

County police and social services leaders have identified more than 30 sites for the 26 homeless offenders, Bellone said, with 20 more sites to be secured in coming months. He noted that no one neighborhood or legislative district will have the bulk of offenders.

The long-running trailer debate has dominated discussions about the county's sex-offender policy, though the homeless population -- even at its high of 40 people -- represented only 4 percent of Suffolk's 1,016 registered sex offenders.

The Riverside trailers will close first, with the cluster in Westhampton to be shuttered by the end of Monday, county officials said. Riverside residents began moving Thursday.

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"The six-year nightmare for these communities is finally coming to an end," said County Legis. Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk), who pushed for the trailer closures.

Bellone had pledged last May to end the trailer program by January. After missing the deadline, he proposed legislation, passed in February, authorizing Suffolk police to work with a Stony Brook nonprofit to tighten monitoring of all registered sex offenders. Parents for Megan's Law will receive $2.3 million from the county over three years to help ensure that offenders are complying with registration requirements.

The new law, the Community Protection Act, called for the trailer residents to be relocated to county shelters. But implementation of the law was slowed because Suffolk initially had too few single male homeless shelters to accommodate the offenders.

Amol Sinha, Suffolk Chapter director for the New York Civil Liberties Union, said the county must provide housing promptly for the trailer residents.

"Once again the county is rushing into a major public-safety decision without any sort of deliberation of what the consequences might be," Sinha said in a reference to the Community Protection Act, which was passed as an emergency measure without legislative hearings. Local officials have long struggled with where to house homeless sex offenders. Starting in 2007, the county began placing them in the East End trailers, which originally were to move to different sites.

Residents protested, so county legislators in 2010 approved a plan to construct six "mini-shelters" for homeless offenders at various industrial parks. But that plan drew opposition and was never implemented.

Bellone ultimately drew up the Community Protection Act as a permanent solution.

Since Parents for Megan's Law began aiding police in intensified offender checks last week, eight people have been arrested on charges including failure to provide updated photographs, Bellone said.

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