County Executive Steve Bellone is expected today to announce a commitment to abolish the homeless sex offender trailer program, according to Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman.
Bellone has scheduled a press conference for Thursday at 3 p.m. on the steps of Southampton Town Hall to outline the future of the program, which has outraged residents for years, since the two trailers were sited at locations in Riverside and Westhampton in 2007. Schneiderman and Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst are expected to attend.
At the conference, Bellone pledged that the trailers would be closed by the end of the year.
Last week, Schneiderman sent Bellone a letter outlining suggestions that the county could implement during the interim period while plans are put in place to abolish the program. Bellone, Schneiderman said, is expected to announce the new measures at Thursday's event.
"County Executive Bellone is going to come out to the East End and clearly state his intention to end the program," Schneiderman said Thursday morning. "The goal is to close both trailers. This is a show of good faith."
Among the interim measures Schneiderman suggested include a plan to move the Westhampton trailer back almost 2000 feet -- or approximately a quarter mile -- from where it is currently sited.
Currently, the Westhampton trailer is placed very near what will soon total approximately 240 residential homes, Schneiderman said. "It is simply too close. It should have never been put there," he said.
Second, Schneiderman said plans will be unveiled to erect a fence around the trailers, provide two security guards at each site, and install video surveillance cameras.
In addition, Schneiderman asked that local police be provided with a daily log of individuals spending the night in each trailer. "I asked for strict compliance with Megan's Law," he said, which requires that Level 2 and 3 sex offenders provide their address to authorities. As it stands, homeless sex offenders in both the Riverside and Westhampton trailers have been listing their addresses as the sheriff's office in Riverside, making it impossible for local residents to know which sex offenders were frequenting the trailers or identify them. "If one was walking around, you wouldn't know," Schneiderman said.
Finally, Schneiderman said he asked Bellone to ensure no additional capacity was added to the trailers; the Riverside trailer currently holds 20 and the Westhampton trailer, 8 individuals. The objective, Schneiderman said, is to be sure "population won't grow, and they won't put another individaul out on the East End."
Schneiderman feels the commitment on Bellone's part to end the program is a critical step forward. Former County Executive Steve Levy, he added, created the program and thwarted attempts to shutter the initiative.
Recently, t would have closed the Westhampton trailer. That measure was tabled recently due to talks in the Legislature about layoffs. Schneiderman said the resolution will most likely stay tabled as plans proceed to shut down both trailers. The resolution, he said, served its purpose in keeping the issue on the front burner.
While Bellone will most likely ask for patience at Thursday's press conference, and the time needed to end the program, Schneiderman said he believes the program's days are numbered. "I'd like to be there on the day they cart those trailers out of here."
For years, local leaders including Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter, Suffolk County Legislator Ed Romaine and Throne-Holst, along with Schneiderman maintained that the Town of Southampton should not have to shoulder the burden of housing both sex offender trailers and has called for more equitable distribution.
On Thursday, both Walter and Romaine were surprised to hear about the press conference as neither was invited. "My biggest fear is that they close the Westhampton trailer and dump everything in Riverside," Walter said.
Walter said while he supports closing both sites, the idea of creating a number of residences for the homeless sex offenders and placing them in various communities is one he doesn't foresee working. Instead, Walter favors a voucher system. "That would probably be a better way, rather than having a huge concentration in one area," he said.
Romaine said the contract has been signed with Community Housing Innovations, to begin constructing the new homeless sex offender housing. "I'm waiting for the day when the trailers will be closed," he said.
He said he hopes moving the Westhampton trailer back will provide some measure of security to the seniors living at the nearby Westhampton Pines development -- but says permanent solutions are needed. "Dumping these trailers and the entire homeless sex offender program on the East End was an unconscionable act by former County Executive Steve Levy's administration," Romaine said.