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May 20, 2009 9:35 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Dozens rally in opposition of homeless sex offender trailer

May 20, 2009 9:35 AM

Nearly 75 demonstrators carrying signs that read “Protect our children” and “House them where they’re from” gathered at the traffic circle in Riverside Friday afternoon to protest Suffolk County’s decision to continue housing most of its homeless sex offenders in a trailer near the county jail, located less than a mile from the protest site.

“This is like putting a fox in charge of a henhouse,” said Stephen Hynes of Flanders, who attended the peaceful demonstration with his 5-year-old son, Steven. “There are so many kids around.”

Mr. Hynes has two older sons—Tim, 13, and Will, 11—enrolled in the Riverhead School District.

Friday’s protest, which was based at the old Riverboat Diner overlooking the traffic circle, was organized by a group of community activists who oppose the placement of a trailer that can house up to 20 homeless sex offenders hailing from across the county at one time. There is a second smaller trailer located on Old Country Road in Westhampton, near the Suffolk County Police Department Shooting Range, that can accommodate about eight offenders. The Suffolk County Department of Social Services operates the trailers.

The organizers behind the protest included Michael Brewer, the former president of the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association, Andrea Spilka, the president of the Southampton Town Civic Coalition and Mason Haas, a Riverhead resident. In January, they hosted a community forum to discuss the trailers and, more specifically, Suffolk County’s decision to house all of its homeless sex offenders in Southampton Town. The forum was attended by more than 300 residents and several government officials, including State Senator Kenneth LaValle, State Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. and Suffolk County Department of Social Services Commissioner Janet DeMarzo.

Mr. Brewer, Ms. Spilka and Mr. Haas are arguing that the Riverside trailer, which is located on the county jail property, should house only those homeless sex offenders who hail from the greater Riverhead area. Currently, sex offenders from as far west as Deer Park or Babylon can seek shelter in the facility.

When the trailer was first placed near the jail in 2007, Suffolk officials stated that they would rotate the facility every few months to other county-owned properties in western Suffolk. They later reneged on that arrangement, stating that the jail is the ideal place for such a facility as security guards can easily monitor the trailers overnight.

“We’re willing to take the Riverhead ones,” Mr. Brewer said during the protest. “We’re willing to take the ones that originate from here.”

Ed Hernandez, the deputy commissioner of the Suffolk County Department of Social Services, said that 18 homeless sex offenders were staying at the Riverside trailer, and eight more at the Westhampton trailer, on Sunday night.

Mr. Hernandez also explained that when both trailers are filled to capacity, his department must house the overflow at motels. He declined to say which ones are being utilized and when social services was last forced to rent motel rooms. However, he said the county would house only the least dangerous sex offenders—those least likely to commit a sex crime again—in a motel.

“We would never put a level three [sex offender] in a hotel,” Mr. Hernandez said.

He also declined to comment on Friday’s protest, noting that both Southampton and Riverhead towns are suing Suffolk County over the placement of the trailers. The lawsuits allege that the county is violating its own laws, as well as state law, because the Riverside trailer is located too close to a playground and the Riverhead Free Library. Both are places where children tend to congregate.

The signs wielded by the protesters, which were provided by organizers, featured slogans demanding that Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy keep his promise and rotate the trailers throughout the county. Many of the cars and trucks navigating the traffic circle at rush hour—Friday’s protest ran from 4 until 7 p.m.—honked their horns in support.

“I couldn’t believe the traffic jam at the circle,” said Karen Golding of Calverton, who attended the protest.

Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman, who attended the protest with his children Magda, 10, and Ruben, 6, said he disagrees with the county’s decision to house all of its homeless sex offenders in Southampton Town. “There are violent sexual predators who have high rates of repeat offenses,” he said.

The county legislator, who lives in Montauk, added that he supports the lawsuits filed by Riverhead and Southampton towns against Suffolk County earlier this year. “It isn’t fair to force this community to have the burden of housing these sex offenders,” Mr. Schneiderman said.

Fran Iacone, a member of the Bayview Pines Civic Association, said she attended the protest because she does not want sex offenders from Mastic, Shirley and other points west staying in Riverside and visiting downtown Riverhead Town, which is a short walk away.

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It IS fair, because there is no such thing AS fair in this mess we have all allowed to be created.

Everyone screams NOT IN MY BACK YARD. Well, hckl folks, they have to be able to live somewhere and your backyard is as good as any. Better actually, because these trailers are practically IN the county jail and even THAT isn't satisfying you.

Everyone wanted a registry so they could know where these people are. They gave you that, but that wasn't good enough, so you wanted them ...more
By justus1 (2), Portsmouth on May 18, 09 8:49 PM
JustUs1, this is not the issue. The issue is that these offenders are all placed in one small cummunity. The fact that it is on jail proerty means nothing. It could just as well be at Tanger Mall. The jail provides no security or anything having to do with theses offenders.
It is a matter of sharing the burden throughout the county. If you figure out the daily expenses of transporting these offenders by taxi, (paid by us) on a daily basis, we could house them in some pretty upsale hotels cheaper. ...more
By Terry (380), Southampton on May 20, 09 7:26 AM
those poor homeless sex offenders, right justus1? how about you give one a room to stay in your house?
By ridiculous (214), hampton bays on May 20, 09 10:35 PM
JustUs1,no one is screaming "NIMBY".It seems that the residents of this particular community are willing to house the offenders that originate from there community, just not yours or any other towns located in the County.

Isn't the location of the Suffolk County Jail enough for this community.The County already abandoned the County seat of government (County Center) for Hauppauge, and continue to use Riverside as a dumping ground.The trailers are just as safe in your yard JustUs1, as the ...more
By Shout ot loud (20), Southampton on May 21, 09 7:48 AM