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Critics slam alternate sex offender housing plan

One of the sex-offender trailers owned by Suffolk

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

While some community leaders applauded Suffolk County's move this week to abandon plans to house homeless sex offenders in a shelter and trailers, other residents, legislators and advocacy groups contended Wednesday the alternative may be worse.

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The new proposal - which would pay $90 a night for motel rooms or rooming houses for about 30 to 35 homeless sex offenders - could mean less supervision and may draw renewed protests if it concentrates them in neighborhoods, opponents said.

"It sounds worse than the shelter," said Lidia Toscano, 43, of Farmingdale, a mother of two who was also opposed to converting a warehouse into offender housing near her home.

"I think we still have to keep fighting," she said. "It's not over."

Until 2007, Suffolk housed homeless sex offenders in motels and rooming houses - regular homeless shelters are too close to schools and parks - and the result was community outrage when offenders turned up in neighborhood clusters of more than a dozen each.

"What we're doing is going back in time," said Laura Ahearn, executive director of Suffolk-based Parents for Megan's Law and the Crime Victims Center.

The outcry over the clusters led the Suffolk Department of Social Services to create a makeshift shelter in a trailer on a police firing range in Westhampton in 2007. Another set of trailers followed near the county jail in Riverhead.

Legis. Wayne Horsley (D-Babylon), whose district was the center of opposition to sex offenders in motels five years ago, said the trailers should be kept. "They're not in a neighborhood," he said.

County Executive Steve Levy did not respond to an interview request. Other officials say the trailers had legal problems.

The Town of Riverhead sued the county, saying the trailers were too close to a park. The Empire Justice Center, a nonprofit legal advocacy group, complained to the state, arguing that conditions - no hot water, no showers, no permanent housing services - were illegal.

When Farmingdale and Town of Babylon residents this week overwhelmingly opposed the warehouse shelter, the county decided to let sex offenders find their own housing, said Gregory Blass, Suffolk's social services commissioner.

Levy aides had discovered Tuesday the warehouse was near a roller hockey facility, which, Levy said in a statement, was the "last straw" in his decision to reverse course.

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