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Jan 21, 2009 10:33 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Forum on Suffolk County's homeless sex offender policy draws 300 people

Jan 21, 2009 10:33 AM

A crowd of nearly 300 jeered Suffolk County representatives during a forum held last Thursday, January 15, at Riverhead High School as county officials defended their decision to place a trailer housing nearly all of the county’s homeless sex offenders near the County Jail in Riverside.

The organizers of the forum—Andrea Spilka of Eastport, Michael Brewer of Flanders, and Mason Haas of Riverhead—invited the representatives, along with elected state, county and town officials, to discuss how other communities should also share the burden of housing Suffolk’s homeless sex offender population.

The Suffolk County Department of Social Services now directs all of the county’s homeless sex offenders seeking temporary shelter to a trailer located in the parking lot of the Suffolk County Jail in Riverside, and sends any offenders the trailer cannot accommodate to a similar facility on Old Country Road in Westhampton. The Riverside trailer, which held 18 people as recently as January 14, has been there since 2007 and can house up to 20 people at once.

The Westhampton trailer, which is near the Suffolk County Police Academy shooting range, provided shelter to three people on the night of January 14, according to county officials. That trailer can hold as many as eight people at once.

In 2007, Suffolk officials stated that they would rotate the two trailers using different locations, including county-owned properties in western Suffolk. They later reneged on that arrangement, stating that the jail property is the ideal place for such a facility as security guards can easily monitor the trailers overnight.

Representatives of the Suffolk County Department of Social Services attending last week’s forum, which included Commissioner Janet DeMarzo, did not indicate that night whether or not they would change that policy anytime soon.

“We were misled from the get-go,” shouted Delia McKernan, president of the Smith Point Beach Property Owners Association, as she pointed her finger at agency officials. Ms. McKernan and several other audience members said the county should feel ashamed for not sticking to its original plan to rotate the trailers.

Ms. DeMarzo defended the county’s decision, noting that officials have not rotated the trailers because of a “county property issue,” suggesting that the county lacks other locations that could accommodate the trailers.

Additionally, Ms. DeMarzo stated that the New York State Department of Corrections, and the divisions of parole and probation that operate within it, have put her office in a very difficult position by charging that it find temporary shelter for homeless sex offenders.

“I never thought I’d have to defend homeless sex offenders,” Ms. DeMarzo said, noting that she is also in charge of the county’s child protective services programs.

In spite of the demands and pleas made by Southampton and Riverhead town residents during the nearly three-hour meeting, Roland Hampson, a spokesman for the Suffolk County Department of Social Services, on Friday reemphasized the agency’s stance that the Riverside location is still the “best alternative” for the primary trailer.

In an e-mail sent on Tuesday, Mr. Hampson added that the county will look at state-owned properties in Suffolk that could possibly accommodate the trailer. He did not offer any possible state-owned properties that could be utilized.

Additionally, Mr. Hampson’s e-mail did not explain why department officials cannot utilize county land, such as the Suffolk County Police Department headquarters in Yaphank, as a possible location for the larger trailer. A second e-mail from Mr. Hampson emphasized that his department is only looking at state-owned properties.

In another development, Riverhead Town Supervisor Phil Cardinale, who attended last week’s forum, said Friday that he is considering taking legal action against Suffolk County to get the Riverside trailer relocated. Mr. Cardinale said the trailer is located less than a quarter mile from George Schmelzer Park, violating a county law that prohibits sex offenders from living near parks, libraries, schools and other areas where children congregate.

Mr. Cardinale, who is a lawyer, said he has asked his town’s legal counsel to look into the matter.

Ms. Spilka, meanwhile, suggested that the county consider the Pilgrim Psychiatric Center in Brentwood, which is run by the state and slated for redevelopment, as a possible location for the trailer. State Senator Kenneth LaValle and State Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr.—both of whom were invited guests at the forum—said they would look for state-owned properties that could possible accommodate the units.

Some audience members and State Assemblyman Marc Alessi, whose district includes Riverhead Town, offered their own ideas about where to send the homeless sex offenders. Mr. Alessi said the county should house them on a boat, a suggestion that elicited laughs and cheers from audience members.

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Michael Brewer is a dedicated member of our community. Congratulations for organizing such a forum. He did what the county executive and the town supervisor failed to do, which was to bring important issues such as this to the public. Mr. Brewer…we need you in SH Town Hall.
By SHNative (554), Southampton on Jan 16, 09 7:57 PM
Again SHNative has hit a key point. Thank you for that insightful effort. Mr. Brewer has indeed made it possible for the overall Southampton community to express it's concerns over this tough and thorny issue. And he has wisely positioned it as a town-wide problem not just one that affects his immediate constituency. Mr. Brewer carries a lot of weight in town hall and I'll add my support to seeing him make a run for town council this November.
By foodie (74), Remsenburg on Jan 17, 09 9:21 AM
I agree that this is a complicated issue .It will take all levels of government to work this out in the end, but only one to start those trailers moving(Steve Levy).Why is it that the community leaders have to bring these issues to the public's eye all the time when we elect officials to protect our interest and our communities.I believe a good follow up for this event would be for both Towns to plan a bus trip with three buses from each town(SH-Rivhd),to the County Excutives office.Why because ...more
By Shout ot loud (20), Southampton on Jan 17, 09 11:03 AM
To answer your question, "Shout ot Loud", it is because we have elected officials who choose to prioritize meaningless topics-- i.e. Councilman Sally Pope's attempts to change her oh so sexist title--over issues of actual substance.
By Woody (15), Westhampton Beach on Jan 18, 09 1:42 AM