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East Farmingdale shelter for sex offenders scrapped

At a packed forum of hundreds of worried

At a packed forum of hundreds of worried residents and parents at Farmingdale High School, Ben Zwirn, a deputy Suffolk County executive, says a plan to consider an East Farmingdale site as a homeless shelter for convicted sex offenders has been scuttled. Opponents had decried the plan because the site on Route 109 was near movie theaters and other hangouts for youth. (Jan. 12, 2009) Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

The applause and cheering lasted for 10 seconds after Suffolk County official Ben Zwirn announced at a forum Tuesday night that the county would not build a shelter for homeless sex offenders in East Farmingdale.

"I should probably stop there, right?" Zwirn asked.

But the applause at Farmingdale High School soon gave way to anger and questions about where those sex offenders will now live.

>>VIDEO: Miss the speech? Click here to watch.

"These are young kids, they're impressionable and, unfortunately, are easy targets," said Jim Hughes, a Farmingdale High teacher who lives in the area and has two daughters. "The PTA was concerned, the board was concerned and therefore I'm concerned."

More than 800 people had filled the school auditorium to discuss a Suffolk plan to possibly build the shelter at a proposed location on Route 109 in East Farmingdale. Suffolk officials scuttled the plan two hours before the forum and instead said that the county would give out vouchers to convicted offenders for motels and rooming houses.

Zwirn said finding a place for homeless offenders to live was "a torturous process." He blamed Albany for not passing stricter laws or opening up state property to house offenders. "Nobody wants these people around," he said. "The perception is somehow Suffolk County is on the side of sex offenders, which is, of course, not the case."

Zwirn and other local officials could not answer many questions on Suffolk's new policy, including which motels could take in sex offenders and whether neighbors could alert each other if a sex offender moved in nearby.

That led to frustration among many in the crowd. "$14,000 a year in taxes, anybody else?" shouted one person, to applause.

As the audience filed out, two Farmingdale parents, Jean Fisher and Nancy Albert, said local officials needed to provide more information on how sex offenders are dealt with.

"Initially, everybody was happy," Fisher said. "Most people in the audience did not realize that our county [Nassau] for a long time has been giving out vouchers." She added vouchers raised concerns but were an improvement over bringing homeless offenders "all together in one spot."

>> PHOTOS: Click here to see photos from the opposition to the sex offender shelter plan

>> DATABASE: Click here to search for sex offenders on Long Island

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