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May 5, 2010 11:10 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

County replaces Westhampton sex offender trailer despite town court challenge

May 5, 2010 11:10 AM

Southampton Town has effectively stopped—at least temporarily—Suffolk County from housing homeless sex offenders in a new trailer that was moved to Old Country Road in Westhampton on Monday night.

Officials representing Southampton Town got a temporary restraining order in State Supreme Court on Tuesday afternoon barring the county from doing anything with the new trailer, including hooking it up to a power supply and connecting its plumbing. Unlike the old trailer, which remains operational and on the site, the new trailer is outfitted with showers and bathrooms. As a result, the county can’t use the facility until at least May 20, when the county and town will next appear before Justice Thomas Whelan to continue ongoing litigation over the trailers.

A state administrative law judge hearing complaints from homeless sex offenders about the lack of plumbing at the Westhampton and Riverside trailers ruled in February that all trailers should have kitchen and bathroom facilities.

The restraining order says the county is prevented from “erecting, constructing, placing, altering, replacing, removing or in any way changing the physical structures” of the trailer. It does not include “the magic words that people can’t sleep in there,” Southampton Town Attorney Michael Sordi said Wednesday, but the effect is that people cannot stay overnight in the new trailer, since doing so would violate the Suffolk County Health Department’s rules.

Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said she was pleased with the ruling. “I think it’s a very positive development,” she said Tuesday evening.

Southampton Town officials learned on Monday that Suffolk County planned to install the upgraded trailer. Soon after, Ms. Throne-Holst announced that the town intended to file for a restraining order and scheduled a press conference on the trailer site on Tuesday. But by the time the 20 or so town officials and community leaders arrived for the event, the new trailer was already in place.

Ms. Throne-Holst accused county officials of installing the trailer “under the cloak of darkness” overnight on Monday and not giving the town any warning. “I am deeply offended by this move,” she said.

Gregory Blass, the commissioner of the Suffolk County Department of Social Services, which oversees the trailers, did not return calls seeking comment, but in an e-mailed statement Tuesday afternoon, he reported that the department notified Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman of Montauk about the plans for the new trailer, and he notified Southampton Town.

“We understand the town’s concern,” Mr. Blass wrote. “It has been our intention for months to phase out use of the trailers, but the legislature has blocked our efforts to fully utilize a voucher system, forcing us to keep the trailers open.”

The original Westhampton trailer has room for eight people and is used to house the overflow from the trailer in Riverside, which holds 18. It is unclear how many homeless people have been staying there recently. Typically, the trailers are used by a total of about 20 people, county officials have said.

On top of filing for the restraining order Tuesday, Southampton Town’s Building Department issued a stop work order to prevent the trailer from functioning. But Mr. Blass said the county “is not subject to the town’s zoning jurisdiction while carrying out governmental functions on county-owned land.”

The homeless sex offender housing trailers in Southampton Town have been a bone of contention between the East End community and Suffolk County since they were placed in Westhampton and at the Suffolk County Jail facility in Riverside three years ago. The county at first promised that the trailers would be rotated through the county, but those plans changed, prompting a firestorm of criticism from the East End community.

After failing to find a permanent site in western Suffolk County, where most of the offenders are from, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy announced early this year that the trailers would be closed and the county would transition to a voucher system wherein homeless sex offenders would receive $90 a day to find housing and meals on their own. The transition to the voucher system has been delayed though because the County Legislature has not increased the Department of Social Services’ petty cash fund to pay for the vouchers.

Several members of the County Legislature recently introduced competing resolutions regarding the trailers. First, two members moved for the trailers to become permanent. Then, Presiding Officer William Lindsay called for the end of the voucher program and called on the Department of Social Services to come up with a new system to house the homeless sex offenders, one in which each district or township would have one facility.

Last week, the East End’s legislators, Mr. Schneiderman and Ed Romaine of Center Moriches, introduced a resolution to permanently close the trailers.

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throne -holst says "under the cloak of darkness" without any notice. Isn't that exactly how politicians do EVERYTHING?
By uncleronk (136), southold on May 7, 10 3:47 PM
lock these animals up in a cage somewhere remote and throw away the key!
By GoldenBoy (351), EastEnd on May 7, 10 4:24 PM
1 member liked this comment
Torches and pitchforks?
By ICE (1214), Southhampton on May 8, 10 2:56 PM
Homeless sex offenders are in need of help on a lot of levels for the good of society. They are another part of many of society's intricate social dilemmas. Decisions should be based on the constitutional rights of the interested parties and not by knee jerk reactions by moral opportunists. The models exist but, seem unreached.
By Johnny Nova (83), Northampton on May 8, 10 4:04 PM
Mabye you should help them by moving e few into your household "Johnny"
By Shout ot loud (20), Southampton on May 20, 10 10:50 PM
I am new to this Westhampton Community and was not aware of this sex offender trailer problem. My opinion is to keep the trailors in Riverhead, by the courts, where they belong, on a permanent basis. The trailers and the sex offenders do not belong in residential areas, where people walk and children play.
Do these sex offenders leave the trailers during the day and if so, how do they travel to and from the trailers? Are they monitored by someone or just left to fend on their own.
By barbsal610 (2), Westhampton on May 9, 10 1:59 PM
First of all Barb,both trailers are located in the Town of Southampton.In walking distance to residential areas,Riverhead free library,Suffolk County Center and Schools.They have been here for three years and counting.At any time they hold up to 30 people in Riverside parking lot trailer and 8-10 in Westhampton trailer.It cost over $ 200.00 dollars a day for transportation alone for these offenders(per person) to go too and from social services everyday, not to mention other cost associated.They ...more
By Shout ot loud (20), Southampton on May 20, 10 11:07 PM
This issue cuts across many lines in Southampton town. Folks who normally disagree seem to be together on this one -- almost unanimously opposed to keeping the trailers here. Their departure is long, long overdue.
By Turkey Bridge (1979), Quiogue on May 14, 10 6:06 AM