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Michigan Sex Offender Freezes to Death on Street As Housing Crisis Continues

Michigan Sex Offender Freezes to Death on Street As Housing Crisis Continues

by Jimmy Franks

On January 26, 2009, Thomas Pauli, 52, was found dead on the cold streets of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Pauli, a registered sex offender, was apparently the latest victim of stringent residency restrictions imposed on people convicted of sex-related crimes.
As in most states, Michigan law prohibits registered sex offenders from establishing a residence within 1,000 feet of a school, even for one night. This restriction includes homeless shelters, two of which reportedly turned Pauli away due to his sex offender status in the days prior to his death.

Bill Merchut, who works at the Mel Trotter Mission in Grand Rapids, stated “We have to follow the law, but, ethically, it feels like we’re responsible.” Shelters that violate the residency restrictions face fines and loss of their license. In Pauli’s case, however, he lost his life.

Similar problems with sex offender restrictions have been widely reported in Dade County, Florida, where a “colony” of sex offenders has taken up residence under the Julia Tuttle Causeway to avoid violating a county ordinance that establishes a 2,500-foot exclusion zone around schools, daycare centers and playgrounds. [See: PLN, June 2008, p.1].

Considering that the number of sex offenders living beneath the causeway has more than doubled in the past two years, one wonders what it will take to get state legislators and city leaders to address the problem. One thing is certain: the situation will not spontaneously resolve itself. The Associated Press reported on March 29, 2009 that the number of sex offenders living under the causeway had increased to 52.

“If I was a murderer, they would help me, they would find me a home, they would find me a job,” noted homeless sex offender Patrick Wiese.

PLN has reported on this problem in other states, including California [PLN, April 2008, p.30] and Massachusetts [PLN, Jan. 2008, p.26]. “These men and women are clearly ‘The Scarlet Letter’ folks of our day,” said Bill Shaffer of the Guiding Light Mission. “And where do they go? I have no answer.”

The lawmakers who pass harsh residency restriction laws, however, have clearly told convicted sex offenders where they can go.

Sources: Grand Rapids Press,, Associated Press

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