By STEVEN ELBOW
Finding a place to live can be hard for most people, but nothing like it is if you happen to be a sex offender on the Special Notification Bulletin, which requires that neighbors be informed when you move in.
Granted, such offenders are probably at or near the bottom of the sympathy list for most people, but those who work with them raise a legitimate question about how offenders are supposed to rejoin society after prison if housing is an enormous barrier.
Consider the case for a man who recently contacted me. I'll call him “Tony” because he wants to remain anonymous. He's one of the 30 offenders who have been “notified” over the past year that if they offend again, the combined force of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies will see that they be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
Tony was labeled one of the city's "worst of the worst" despite the fact that he committed his offenses nearly 20 years ago, while still in high school. To protect his identity, I won't go into detail, but I will say his offenses don't appear to be anywhere near as hair-raising as most of the others in the program. He hasn't been charged with anything since.
Now Tony's gainfully employed, and he’s keeping his nose clean, according to online court records. But he was recently told by a community corrections agent that he needs to move. Tony wasn't told why, but he thinks it's because his roommate will have visitation rights with his daughters, and officials don’t want Tony to be anywhere near them.
But Tony can’t find anyone to rent to him.
“Nobody wants to rent to a person who has a sex offense and is SBN (Special Notification Bulletin),” he says.
He’s been looking for months, and so have others. The serious offender program offers those on it an array of services to help keep them out of trouble. And one of those services is Jerome Dillard, president of Voices Beyond Bars, who helps offenders find places to live.
Dillard says the problem exists for anyone who is listed as a sex offender. But the fact that Tony is on the community notification list ratchets things up considerably.
“This makes it a little more complicated because they want to inform the community that this individual’s moving in,” Dillard says. “I’ve had landlords that have done it in the past that just can’t deal with the scrutiny of the notification.”