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A controversy is growing in South Ozone Park that shows the challenge state and city officials face when trying to find shelter for sex offenders and others coming out of prison.
It was learned that more than 20 sex offenders are living in a shelter 1,000 feet away from PS 124, according to the state sex offender registry.
The Skyway Shelter, on South Conduit Avenue, is a men-only homeless shelter that used to be a family facility until last year. Some of the sex offenders residing there have been convicted of violent crimes and offenses against minors.
City Councilman Ruben Wills told our reporter the city Department of Homeless Services did not live up to its assurances to the community that it would try to keep sex offenders out of the facility.
He said the state is “basically using our children as cheese on a mousetrap.”
That is an exaggeration. These men have to live somewhere. There are states where nothing is done for people coming out of prison. With no jobs or money, they wind up sleeping under bridges.
Wills’ office raised the sex-offender issue at a Community Board 10 meeting earlier this month.
Heather Janik, the DHS press secretary, said it has to provide shelter for these men.
“Pursuant to court orders, Homeless Services is under legal mandate to provide shelter to all homeless individuals or eligible families regardless of their criminal background, including sex offender status,” she said.
That’s understandable. But the DHS doesn’t perform background checks on shelter applicants. Instead it relies on self-reports or reports from the state Division of Parole.
For the sake of the community, DHS should do a minimal background check. It should know something about the men and women living in its shelters. And it should be checking the sex offender registry and notifying the nearby community when a sex offender moves in.
The DHS has access to the sex offender registry.
For budgetary reasons, southeast Queens has once again become a dumping ground. What was once a motel became a shelter for families and now a men’s shelter that has housed sex offenders and ex-cons.
They need to live somewhere, but this is a bad choice.
©2012 Community Newspaper Group
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