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Feb 9, 2010 6:57 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Closure of homeless sex offender trailers delayed

Feb 9, 2010 6:57 PM

The closing of two trailers that house homeless sex offenders in Riverside and Westhampton will be delayed for an undetermined amount of time after the Suffolk County Legislature declined to vote on a money transfer that is needed to transition to a voucher program.

The County Legislature tabled the motion to replenish the petty cash fund utilized by the county’s Department of Social Services, which is responsible for providing shelter for the county’s homeless sex offenders, by a 15-3 vote on February 2. The department needed to increase the fund from $8,500 to $25,000 to help close the trailers and get homeless sex offenders enrolled in the new voucher program, a system that will provide them with $90 a night to find shelter and buy a meal on their own.

The transfer would have come from within the Department of Social Services’ $520 million annual budget, according to Roland Hampson, a spokesman for the department.

As a result of the tabling, it is not clear when the two trailers, which are located near the Suffolk County Jail in Riverside and the Suffolk County Police Department shooting range on Old Country Road in Westhampton, will now be decommissioned. When the voucher program was announced last month, officials estimated that the trailers would be closed by mid-February.

Department of Social Services Commissioner Greg Blass said in an e-mail that his department still plans to go forward with the voucher program, though officials do not know when the trailers can be closed. The County Legislature’s next general meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, March 2.

County Legislator Jay Schneiderman of Montauk, an Independence Party member whose district houses both trailers, voted against tabling the transfer. He blasted the decision made by his colleagues, labeling it as a political maneuver. He said some legislators are putting off the inevitable so they can deflect blame for terminating the trailer program.

He said some legislators are waiting for New York State to force the county to close the trailers so they go back to their constituents and blame Albany for forcing the institution of a voucher program. Some legislators have raised safety issues over the program because no one will be keeping close tabs on where the homeless offenders will be living from night to night.

“They have the political cover to say that they had no choice,” Mr. Schneiderman said of his colleagues who delayed the funding transfer. “If this was about providing additional funds to house the homeless, this wouldn’t even be an argument.”

The Department of Social Services has already been warned by Albany that the county’s homeless sex offenders can no longer be housed in the two trailers, according to Suffolk Legislator Tom Barraga, a Republican who represents the 11th Legislative District in Islip Town. The trailers lack certain amenities, such as kitchens and showers, and do not feature the same services that other homeless shelters in the county provide.

Mr. Schneiderman, Mr. Barraga and fellow County Legislator Ed Romaine of Center Moriches, who represents the North Fork, voted against tabling the measure last week.

Mr. Schneiderman said he understands why his fellow legislators do not want the homeless sex offenders living in their neighborhoods. Still, he said, the taxpayers of Southampton Town have carried the entire burden of the program since the county started utilizing the trailers more than two years ago.

“I think I made my outrage clear to my colleagues,” he said. “I’m angry for them for not helping me solve this problem, but I understand their political dilemma.”

The delay in the transition from trailers to a voucher program could also open up Suffolk County to lawsuits, Mr. Blass warned. “It is possible that we will be subject to a lawsuit or a reduction in state aid if the legislature takes no action on the plan to provide the department with petty cash,” he wrote in an e-mail.

Southampton and Riverhead towns have already filed separate lawsuits against the county over its placement of the trailers. In the fall, some of the homeless sex offenders asked the state for what is called a Departmental Fair Hearing during which an administrative law judge hears complaints made against social services departments. Some of Suffolk’s homeless sex offenders are alleging that they are being treated unfairly because the trailers in Riverside and Westhampton do not provide the same amenities as other county-run homeless shelters.

Mr. Hampson said his department expects to have the results of that hearing soon. “It should have been here already,” he said this week.

State officials have also expressed concern that the trailers lack kitchens and showers, and are also considering litigation, Mr. Hampson said. New York State’s Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, which helps Suffolk County run its homeless shelters, could also choose to withhold aid, Mr. Hampson said.

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