The large number of sex offenders in homeless shelters begs the question of whether they are forced to live there because they are unable to find other suitable housing or if they are trying to evade registration.
Because of the transient nature of the shelter residents, it is difficult to determine whether they reside at the shelter or just say they live there.
That problem plagues police officials charged with verifying sex offenders? addresses. ?It does pose difficulties for us, because few people may know them in shelters and they leave during the day,? said Boston police Sgt. Detective Kim Gaddy. ?Sometimes we can?t find the individuals. You really have to do your homework.?
The Massachusetts Parole Board has 110 sex offenders under strict supervision who are prohibited from living in shelters. They must comply with GPS monitoring, biannual polygraph exams and curfews.
As for the state?s other 1,500 Level 3 sex offenders, the Massachusetts legislature enacted a law in 2006 that requires them to register their addresses more often ? every 45 days instead of every 90 days ? if they reside at a homeless shelter. They also must register any address where they stay for four days or longer. Their names and photos are posted online. Additionally, lawmakers have banned sex offenders from living in nursing homes, required classification of sex offenders before they are released from prison, and mandated lifetime parole for sex offenders convicted of crimes against children.
While the recidivism rate for the state?s sex offenders is not tracked, 49 percent of all released prisoners in Massachusetts reoffend within one year. The state?s oppressive policies for sex offenders, which tend to remove them from stable environments, likely aggravate the situation.
?This is a critical issue of grave concern,? said Jim Greene, director of Boston?s Emergency Shelter Commission. ?Large, crowded homeless shelters are a militantly anti-therapeutic milieu for people with mental health or other behavior problems. They?re just not a place for a Level 3 sex offender to reintegrate into society.?
Greene blames the state for failing to implement five-year-old ?risk reduction plans? that include provisions for sex offenders to get specialized housing, workshops for jobs and medical services, and post-release supervision.
?Having a home to live in is extremely important for a sex offender to reintegrate,? said Charles McDonald, spokesman for the state?s Sex Offender Registry Board. ?This is a problem that should be addressed on a grand scale.?
Sometimes even a shelter refuses to take in sex offenders. Gerard Theriault, 64, was thrown out of the basement of St. Paul?s Church after the Archdiocese of Boston decided to bar sex offenders in order to protect children, which is ironic given the diocese?s decades long pattern of protecting and enabling priests who sexually abused hundreds of children in church buildings. He had lived there for more than a year. That causes even more serious problems for such offenders, who have nowhere else to turn.
?The odds are that one or more of these sex offenders will recidivate, and if it?s at a shelter, we?ll all feel terrible,? said Dr. James O?Conell, president of the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program. ?But if shelters say no to these people, where do they go? It just puts people in a terrible conundrum.?
The problem is not confined to Massachusetts. Two-thirds of the states allow released sex offenders to register as homeless or with transient addresses. Virginia sex offender Keith Francis, 50, listed his address as ?under Canal Bridge,? while Elliott Bloom, a sex offender in Florida, lived in his car for nine months.
Residency restrictions that force offenders out of places to live have been cited as contributing factors ? 27 states have enacted such laws, which prohibit sex offenders from residing within a certain distance of schools, parks or child care centers. ?Residency restrictions are the linchpin for causing homelessness among sex offenders,? observed Kansas Department of Corrections spokesperson Frances Breyne.
More than 100 sex offenders in New York are registered at two homeless shelters, and in Miami the listed address for 22 offenders was under a causeway. [See: PLN, Sept. 2007, p.22]. California has the largest transient sex offender population with more than 2,600 as of November 2007.
Sources: Boston Globe, USA Today
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