By Douglas Walker
MUNCIE - A Muncie pastor is seeking the public’s help in trying to find shelter for a small group of convicted sex offenders who are soon to lose their nightly home.
Steve Graves, pastor at Fountain Square (Facebook) and Industry United Methodist (Facebook) churches, said Thursday the men have been told they can no longer stay at a Christian Ministries shelter at 401 E. Main St.
That’s due to state law that forbids those convicted of some sex-related crimes from living within 1,000 feet of places frequented by children. In the case of the Main Street shelter, that would apparently apply to a small downtown park, the Carnegie Library and a daycare facility, Graves said.
“We don’t question the law,” the pastor said, adding he was “baffled” as to why state officials apparently feel they have no responsibility to help the men survive.
- If the law is wrong you should question it!
The edict that effective Sunday, the men can no longer stay at the Main Street shelter came not from Christian Ministries, but from state officials.
Graves said he is aware of the low regard many citizens have for convicted sex offenders, and that their proximity can be troubling, especially for families with children.
“But we’re a society that believes in redemption, and second chances,” he said. “We’re still human beings.”
- Not anymore!
Graves said because of the stigma of their crimes, the men have difficulty finding work, and that the residency restriction complicates their efforts to find lodging. In recent weeks, weather conditions have made the pursuit of overnight shelter a life and death proposition.
- We wonder if that is their goal, to have ex-offenders die?
“Desperate people will do desperate things,” Graves said.
The pastor at first thought as many as eight offenders would be left without lodging beginning Sunday, but four of the men have since found at-least temporary lodging.
That leaves Graves — and those who have come to his assistance, including Paula Justice, Mayor Dennis Tyler’s administrative assistant — two more days to find a place for four men to stay.
Graves is asking anyone with a property that could be used — essentially any structure with heating that would not violate the 1,000-feet restriction — and where cots could be set up to give the men a place to sleep.
The pastor can be contacted at (765) 228-7404.
“They don’t expect the Taj Mahal,” he said. “Just a roof over their head.”
Graves became aware of the men’s plight through a convicted sex offender he met through his church, _____.
_____ was convicted of child molesting in Grant County in 1995. The former Marion resident has since returned to prison for parole violations, and two convictions — also in Grant County, in 2003 and 2008 —for failing to register as a sex offender.
He became a Muncie resident through the efforts of the state Department of Correction, who allowed him to stay at a “DOC Assist” facility — for recently released sex offenders with nowhere else to go — in the Old West End neighborhood. (A DOC official said recently the department was no longer operating any DOC Assist homes in Muncie or Delaware County.)
After his eligibility to stay at the Powers Street house ended, _____ for a time lived under the East Jackson Street bridge. The church congregation later bought him a tent to live in, but this winter has not been conducive to tent residency.
He has done some part-time work at the two churches where Graves ministers, and is hopeful his Social Security pension — for a mental disability — will be restored.
For now, though, his primary concern is having a place to sleep on Sunday night.
“The system is messed up, big time,” _____ said on Thursday.
While Graves’ priority is finding a place for _____ and the other three offenders to stay in the short term, he said efforts must be made to solve the residence issues for offenders on a long-term basis.
“This is a community problem,” said Graves.
The Muncie pastor is no stranger to trying to solve government-related problems — or to dealing with convicted criminals, for that matter.
Before he entered the ministry seven years ago, Graves worked both as an administrative assistant to then-Gov. Evan Bayh, assigned to health and human services, and as a probation officer.