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Shutdown of homeless sex offender trailers delayed

The shutdown of controversial trailers for homeless sex offenders in Riverhead and Westhampton could be delayed to June or July after the Suffolk Legislature Tuesday night balked at providing petty cash funds to expedite the shutdown.

The legislature voted 15-3 to table a resolution to raise the agency's petty cash limit from $8,500 to $25,000. The increase was requested for a wide array of departmental needs but needed now to move the 20 homeless sex offenders in trailers to the county's new voucher system.

Social Services Commissioner Gregory Blass said the department has already moved nine offenders from trailers into the new voucher system since it was announced last month, but the agency is strapped because it has more than two dozen needs for the petty cash fund, which has remained unchanged since the 1990s.

"We're doing about one a week," said Blass, adding if other demands lessen, the transition could be accomplished as early as some time in April. He conceded that it could take until June or July to shut down the trailers.

The lawmakers in their Riverhead meeting postponed action after grilling Blass for nearly an hour. Earlier in the day, new supervisors of Riverhead and Southampton as well as civic leaders pleaded for the county to speed up the closing of the trailers.

Heightening the tensions, County Executive Steve Levy filed a proposal to create a task force of all 18 legislators asking each of them to come up with sites to shelter five offenders in their own district, a plan Presiding Officer William Lindsay (D-Holbrook) called "political theater" with little chance of passage.

Legis. Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) Tuesday night filed a resolution to keep the trailers open and make the necessary improvement to meet state standards.

During his testimony, Blass said a state administrative judge last week ruled that the county must provide showers and counseling to the homeless offenders, though the department does not know how they will comply. "It is a house of cards about to fall," said Blass.

However, Legis. Louis D'Amaro (D-Deer Park) opposed any move to close the trailers. "How can anyone say that it's not safer to have them in trailers than the possibility of having them next door?" he asked.

Levy last month decided to drop the 3-year-old county policy of housing 25 to 30 homeless sex offenders nightly at trailers in the parking lot of the county jail in Riverhead and at a county property in Westhampton after his proposal to move some of them to a warehouse shelter in Farmingdale met with protest.

The county executive's new policy of vouchers, used by Nassau and many upstate counties, gives homeless offenders a $90 stipend to find their own shelter along with a list of sites banned because they are too close to schools, libraries and playgrounds.

Although the county plan calls for offenders to use debit cards for their housing, the department needs petty cash for payments for about two weeks until the cards are processed.

"We've created the perfect mouse trap," said Lindsay, "We've created so many restrictions, we have no place to put them."

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