Wednesday, April 24, 2013

NY - County searches for options for homeless sex offenders

Original Article

You want options? Really? If so, then examine the facts! The facts that the online registry prevents many from getting jobs, and employment, therefore they become homeless. Take the registry offline and eliminate the residency restrictions, which have been proven to not work, and most of the problem will have been solved.


UTICA - Oneida County is searching for possible alternatives to housing homeless convicted sex offenders and violent felons in local motels.

We are dealing with what’s in front of us,” said County Executive Anthony Picente. “That is a homeless population that has mixed within it ex-offenders that run the gamut of what the offense was, as well as people who have just run into a streak of bad luck.”

The issue arose after the O-D reported that within a two-week period in February, eight Level 2 or Level 3 sex offenders had been placed by the county Social Services Department in motels on Genesee Street in North Utica.

By law, counties are required to find housing for anyone who requests the assistance. If a homeless person is an active addict, a convicted sex offender or has a violent felony conviction, however, the local shelters won’t take them.

One possible alternative, Picente said, is having an outside agency operate a shelter.
- Even if you do this, there will always be people complaining about ex-sex offenders in their back yards.

We are looking at all options to try and alleviate the situation,” he said. “But there may not be a perfect option out there that can satisfy everyone.”
- You will never please everyone!

Picente said homeless sex offenders are a particularly difficult group to find housing for because of local laws that prevent them from living near schools and certain other locations.
- Exactly, so take the registry offline and eliminate the residency laws, then most of the problem goes a way.

County Attorney Greg Amoroso said hotels and motels are on the list of locations where the state allows counties to place homeless individuals. The temporary housing also must be close to the services they need to get back on their feet, under the law, Amoroso said.

The problem
Like the shelters, motels can refuse certain occupants, but places such as Scottish Inn, Happy Journey and Super 8 motels along North Genesee Street have accepted sex offenders in need of housing, county officials said. Under the law, the motels are not told the specific backgrounds, of the individuals they are housing.

In March, an average of 23 homeless people per day was housed in area motels or hotels and 67 in shelters. Whether any of those individuals had criminal or addiction issues could not determined.

Sometimes, people who do not have those issues also are placed in the motels because of lack of available space in the shelters, county Social Services Commissioner Lucille Soldato said.

County Legislator Emil Paparella represents North Utica and was shocked to find that sex offenders were being housed in motels in his district.
- Why does it shock them?  Or are they just pretending to be ignorant of this?

He said his son and grandchildren have stayed in those motels because of their low prices, but they won’t be doing it again unless things change.

He’s afraid others will do the same.

Right now, we are trying to build Utica up,” Paparella said. “If we start getting a reputation that we are accepting homeless sex offenders, it’s not going to look good for the city.”

Shelters crowded
Shelters cost the county between $30 and $35 per day for adults, while the motels cost about $50 a day. About $255,000 was spent by the county on such placements in 2012.

In Oneida County, the only shelters that take men are the Rescue Missions in Utica and Rome. Officials there did not return calls for comment.

County Social Services staff is barred by law from asking specific questions about a homeless person’s criminal record because it is not legally relevant to eligibility for county services, including housing. The staff can list the criteria set out by the shelters and ask the individual if they meet them, but the individual may opt not to specify which of the criteria the fail to meet.
- So basically, if you are an ex-felon, they cannot ask about your background, but if you are on the sex offender registry, sorry, we cannot help?

The shelters also ask such questions and might do blood tests to determine if a person is using drugs, she said.

Patricia Witt, executive director of Emmaus House, a shelter for homeless women and children, said her screening process is designed to protect the people her organization serves.

Our funders and supporters created these shelters for specific purposes,” Witt said, "listing domestic violence, addiction recovery or specific groups such as women.”

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