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Levy weighing warehouse plan for homeless, sex offenders

Suffolk County for the first time is considering using warehouses in industrial parks to shelter the rising number of homeless, possibly including sex offenders, County Executive Steve Levy said Thursday.

"We are looking to buy a number of warehouses in industrial areas to convert for extra housing on an emergency basis," Levy said in an year-end interview with reporters.

He said the county is eyeing three or four sites and could have a resolution to put before the county legislature within the next month or two.

Gregory Blass, social services commissioner, said the warehouses would be converted to accommodate 15 to 20 homeless residents for overnight stays and 40 to 50 people for daytime programs. He said no decision has been made whether the first site will consist of families or sex offenders but they will not be housed together. He said the county has had preliminary talks with state officials.

Anthony Farmer, spokesman for the Office of Temporary Assistance and Disabilities, said he knows of no county that has used a warehouse for a shelter. But he added the state is "willing to look" at alternative sites as long as they meet state regulations.

Suffolk is looking at expanding facilities because the sagging economy has nearly doubled the number of homeless in the past year to 355 families and 190 single adults, overwhelming the county network of 50 shelters. Since August, the county has resumed using motels - an expensive practice ended several years ago - for about 60 families.

Blass said he hopes a new facility could be opened by summer if Suffolk can secure state approval.

Officials said industrial park sites are being considered because placing sex offenders has become increasingly difficult in light of new state, county and local laws restricting them from living near schools churches, playground and day care centers.

"It is the unintended consequence of all those 'not in my backyard' pieces of legislation," Levy said. "They thought they were doing a good thing by saying you could not live within 1,000 feet . . . but there's no places left."

Blass could not say whether warehouse shelters would end use of trailers at the Riverhead county jail and county property in Westhampton for homeless sex offenders. But Blass added it might lead to those sites being used as backups or eventually being phased out.

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