By ELIZABETH COOPER
UTICA - Since state and local laws about where they can live were tightened around a decade ago, sex offenders have become more likely to end up homeless.
That’s caused problems for counties across the state, because they are required by law to find housing for anyone who needs shelter within their borders.
Different counties have cobbled together different strategies to deal with the thorny issue, but officials and homeless advocates from several counties said there is no easy answer.
- There are easy answers! It's just something they don't want to hear. Eliminate the residency restrictions and stop letting mass hysteria define laws.
“I don’t know what the solution is,” said Greta Guarton of the advocacy group Long Island Coalition for the Homeless. “We, of course, think everyone needs a place to live, but certainly understand the community’s concerns.”
The issue came to a head in Oneida County in February, after an Observer-Dispatch report found that at least eight Level 2 and Level 3 sex offenders had been housed at three North Utica motels in a two-week period. Amid public outcry, two of the motels announced they would stop taking homeless individuals referred by the county, and County Executive Anthony Picente has said he is looking for other options.
“We have to find a solution given the lay of the land here, in terms of the shelters, the neighborhoods and the community,” he said. “It’s an ongoing process and discussion.”
Sex offenders have been required to register with officials where they live since the mid-1990s. The federal government and states across the nation adopted so-called Megan’s Laws after the 1994 murder of Megan Kanka, a New Jersey child who was killed by a released sex offender living near her home.
- Why do we continue to punish everyone with similar crimes due to one bad apple? Are we going to start doing the same for all other crimes? One person commits a crime with a gun and all gun owners are punished? Oh wait, they are already working on that one!
In subsequent years, states and many communities adopted laws regulating where sex offenders are allowed to live. In Oneida County, a 2007 law prohibits sex offenders from living within 1,500 feet of a school, child care facility, playground or park.
Counties in New York must find housing for any individual, regardless of their criminal history, if they come to the Department of Social Services and say they are homeless.