The two trailers that once housed dozens of homeless convicted sex offenders in Southampton Town were towed from their respective locations last week, ridding the area of the final reminders of the controversial Suffolk County policy.
The trailers were permanently closed in May and the tenants relocated to other permanent shelters, including undisclosed motels, throughout Suffolk County, according to officials.
“I don’t want them to be even a reminder of the old sex offender program,” Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman said, expressing his relief that both trailers—one once located next to the Suffolk County Police shooting range off Old Country Road in Westhampton, and the other adjacent to the Suffolk County Jail in Riverside—were finally gone.
Former Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy established the policy of housing the homeless convicted sex offenders in the trailers in 2007, but did not follow through on his promise to rotate the facilities throughout the county every few months. Both remained operating in Southampton Town until this past May, when current County Executive Steve Bellone implemented a new rigorous plan for monitoring the county’s roughly 1,000 sex offenders under legislation called the Community Protection Act, part of which called for the permanent closure of the trailers
The legislation authorized the county to sign a contract with Parents For Megan’s Law, an advocacy organization dedicated to preventing sexual violence and assault. The group, which will be paid up to $900,000 for its services over the next three years, has been charged with implementing a system to verify that the county’s convicted sex offenders are registering their home addresses and places of employment, as required by state law. The Community Protection Act also allows the Suffolk County Police Department to improve the way it disseminates information about convicted sex offenders among police officers.
Mr. Schneiderman, Southampton Town officials and community leaders long argued that the trailer program placed an unfair burden on Southampton Town residents, particularly those who live near the trailers. Most of the offenders staying at the facilities hailed from points west and had to be transported, also at the county’s expense, to the trailers each night and morning.
“I fought hard for years to get rid of them, and now they’re gone,” Mr. Schneiderman said this week, adding that there is no longer any fear that the old program might be reinstated.
Brad Bender, a former president of the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association and a candidate for the Southampton Town Board this November, said he was “absolutely delighted” to hear the news. “We can’t thank Jay Schneiderman enough for not giving up on it,” said Mr. Bender, who lives in Northampton. “It was a long, hard fight.”
Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said on Friday that she appreciated the effort of Mr. Bellone, who kept true to his election promise to close the trailers, and John O’Neill, the acting commissioner of the Suffolk County Department of Social Services, the department that oversees the emergency housing program. She noted that the county policy of housing the homeless sex offenders in the trailers was “ill-conceived from the very beginning.”
“We look forward to knowing that those clients in need will be offered services, but in a far more appropriate way than those trailers ever did,” Ms. Throne-Holst added.
Suffolk officials have blamed town and county laws that bar the convicted sex offenders from residing within a certain distance of day care centers, schools and other places that children tend to congregate for forcing many of the offenders into homelessness once they serve their sentences and are released from prison. Those laws are currently being challenged in federal court.