By GAIL COLLETTA (Florida Action Committee)
The United States is home to about 750,000 sex offenders, with slightly less than 60,000 registered in Florida. According to a 2012 study by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Florida saw a 74 percent increase in the number of sex offenders in the past five years.
What has also increased exponentially in the last five years is the number of municipalities that have passed tough residency restrictions against those classified as sex offenders. With thousands being added to the list each year and Florida requiring lifetime registration, the number of registrants will steadily climb while the available housing options will steadily decrease, leaving a growing number of registrants with nowhere to live.
In a 2009 study that appears on the Florida Department of Law Enforcement website, it was reported that as much as 50 percent of the state is off limits to sex offenders. More populated areas had less than 10 percent available, with some cities entirely zoning out registrants. Wherever there is an available pocket for registrants to cluster, the growing trend has been to install a pocket park to close off the area.
Compounded by the fact that few landlords want their address published online or are unwilling to rent to former sex offenders, and public registration rendering employment unlikely, more sex offenders are forced into a life of homelessness or are driven underground.
So why should we care? As WFTV Channel 9 in Orlando reported, "More than 230 convicted sex offenders in Central Florida are almost untraceable." Without an address, it is virtually impossible to check up on them. Those numbers are even worse in South Florida, which has twice as many homeless registrants. Also, homelessness leads to instability and recidivism.
All the while, study after study has shown that residency restrictions are ineffective and actually do more harm than good.
So, unless we do care about public safety and do something to reverse these counterproductive residency restrictions, more homeless sex offenders will be coming to our neighborhoods.