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Suffolk again considers housing sex offenders in motels

Group homes, East End trailers, even a converted warehouse - all have been proposed to house homeless rapists, child molesters and others convicted of sex offenses.

And all have generated outrage that has ended up killing the plans or scaling them back.

Now, a Suffolk plan to shut the East End trailers and go back to housing offenders in motels and rooming houses has begun. Some of the lowest-level offenders have received cash from the county to rent rooms in motels or boarding houses.

A Suffolk Legislature 15-3 vote Tuesday that put off the funding for the trailer closures will delay but not stop moving higher level offenders into motels and boarding houses.

As in the past, that plan faces opposition.

"We don't see why they should abolish the current trailer system," said Laura Ahearn, executive director of Suffolk's Parents for Megan's Law and the Crime Victims Center.

The complaints frustrate Suffolk Social Services Commissioner Gregory Blass. He said a quagmire of strict residency laws, community opposition and indifference among elected and appointed officials has upended reasonable solutions.

Those factors stopped an industrial warehouse-shelter and housing offenders on state land like Pilgrim Psychiatric Center, he said.

"We have talked about this until we're blue in the face," Blass said. "And we get absolutely no support, just pot shots."

The problem, Blass said, is state law requires the county to house the homeless, but Suffolk law prohibits sex offenders from living within a quarter-mile of schools, playgrounds and day care centers. Some offenders may not loiter 100 feet from where children congregate.

The restrictions preclude the county's 52 homeless shelters, officials said. And there are few palatable solutions because no one wants sex offenders in their area, Blass said.

The trailers - in the county jail parking lot in Riverhead and on a police firing range in Westhampton - were started in 2007 after complaints about clusters of offenders in motels.

Michael Evans, president of USPA Nationwide Security, which runs the trailers, said two guards watch the offenders and inform parole officers of violations. A spokeswoman for the state Division of Parole said no trailer resident has ever been arrested for a sex offense while living there.

Evans said motels and rooming houses won't be so vigilant. "It's just not safe," Evans said of the new county policy.

The trailers have critics. Riverhead Town is suing the county because one is near a park. Civil rights advocates argue a lack of showers and services make them illegal. State officials don't like them, Blass said.

Another idea is group homes, said William O'Leary, a licensed social worker who provides therapy for trailer residents. He set up one in Gordon Heights and said the offenders police themselves, are easier to find for parole officers and reintegrate better into society.

Neighbors fired back that the offenders made their community unsafe. In 2008, the Town of Brookhaven passed a law preventing multiple sex offenders from living in a single family home.

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