Riverhead assessor Mason Haas, who has been fighting since 2007 for change to the county's policy of sheltering homeless registered sex offenders in trailers in Riverside and Westhampton, asks residents to show support for a proposed alternative by going to the County Legislature's meeting in Hauppauge on Tuesday.
It is hard to believe it has been over six trying years in which we have worked to resolve this homeless sex offender issue.
We started down this path back in 2007 for three reasons:
1) Lack of security; sex offenders were able to walk off the property of the sheriff's department undetected. An open gate, open on the property, following a path through the woods, directly into our community.
2) Doubling the size of the trailer, to enable the county to increase the number of sex offenders housed. Unannounced,unshared, unacceptable.
3) The lack of fairness by the placement of all the county's homeless sex offenders in our backyard, (Riverside trailer arrived 2007, Westhampton years later.)
I, along with several parents and legislators Ed Romaine and Jay Schneiderman, and our local press, took the walk through the woods entering unnoticed by anyone till we arrived at the trailer's location.
This very walk began our journey.
We followed this up with a forum that brought together Sen. Lavalle, then-assemblymen Marc Alessi, supervisors Phil Cardinale and Linda Kabot, Ben Zwirn (from county exec's office), legislators Romaine, Schneiderman, and John Kennedy (human health services committee representative), and then-DSS commissioner Janet Demarco. Joining us on that very snowy winter evening at Riverhead High School were also 300 concerned citizens, our neighbors, all to discuss the issues with clustering homeless sex offenders within walking distance of our downtown area, our schools, our library and our parks.
We spoke of how this was a program that was not working — and would not work. We spoke of how it was unfair to burden one community. We spoke of how the laws created as a result of knee-jerk reactions by politicians were creating the problems of homelessness, and how this population would continue to grow. We spoke of how it was not only unfair to us, but also unfair to this targeted group. Everyone must remember a teenager of 18 or 19 could be charged as a sex offender for having sex with a minor a year or two younger, just because of a parent's anger. I know of a story where a boy of 18 received a level 3 rating and is currently an adult with a wife, a family and a job. He has to leave his house every night and stay at a shelter because he is forbidden to be around children.
The educational experience that I have gained has taught me well. I have sat with counselors for both sides, victim and offender. I have sat in discussions with Laura Ahearn from Parents for Megan's Law — who, by the way, was an advocate for keeping the trailers, and this was used against our fight for change by the Levy administration. She now has come to understand our concerns.
Our goal from that first walk through the woods has never wavered. Offers have been made, challenged and often gone to the wayside. We never changed our goal. Our journey has always been to protect all. We never said we would not take those offenders originating from our area. We simply were asking for all to share the burden. When our pleas fell upon deaf ears at the county legislative level, because they adopted a NIMBY mentality, I pushed for Riverhead Town to adopt similar laws that towns like Huntington adopted to protect their turf, and Riverhead adopted those laws. What else could we do?
Now that we have a new county executive, there is hope. Ahearn has changed her tune and we have spoken with County Executive Steve Bellone. There has been much in the papers the last few days, and things are happening rapidly. We are on the merry-go-round and the golden ring is there for us to grasp if we fight for it.
Whether you are from Riverhead, Jamesport, Aquebogue, Calverton, Baiting Hollow, Laurel, or Wading River, it does not matter because we are all from the Town of Riverhead. Together we are Riverhead. It is our town, and we made it our home. We are neighbors. We support our friends and neighbors from the Riverside/Flanders/North Hampton area. They too have shared this burden.
What can you do? It requires action. Be at the legislative meeting this Tuesday in Hauppauge at 3 p.m. at the north county complex, 725 Veterans Memorial Highway. Those in need of a ride to this very important meeting can call Legis. Schneiderman's office at 631-852-8400. We need to show our support and our grit to fight for this bill to pass. We need numbers, we need to show our unity and our determination.
The legislative body has a not only a moral responsibility it has a fiduciary responsibility. They have heard from the experts about how this current policy is not good government. They are spending $2.5 million per year on 38 homeless offenders (the county numbers) This breaks down to $65,789.47 an offender. Yes, that is what is being spent on 4 percent of the county's total number of registered sex offenders.
In closing, I would like to thank each and every face and voice who took the time to attend a forum, send a letter or even discuss the issue with a neighbor. This very issue serves as a lesson for every legislature who presides in this county. Although you may be elected by few it is our home as a whole which we call Long Island. And it is with that thought that we should continue to work together to protect and serve.
Again we ask for your help. Your presence in Hauppauge would be huge. We are one community and together we will be heard. Please talk to your friends. Share this article with them and ask that they please join us.
Here are two links: the power point presentation presented to the legislature's public safety committee on Thursday. The other is an ABC-TV broadcast of the story.
Mason Haas, Riverhead town assessor, is a resident of Jamesport.