"The trailers have been emptied and padlocked."
That's the word Tuesday evening from County Legislator Jay Schneiderman, who's been fighting for more than six years to shut down the two trailers used the Suffolk County department of social services to shelter the county's homeless registered sex offenders within his legislative district.
"It's the end of an era. We did it. This has been a very challenging, long-fought battle," he said.
"They haven't been towed away yet, but I'm told they will be, within a few days, Schneiderman said in a phone interview.
County Executive Steve Bellone, who has said since taking office last year that the trailers were "bad public policy" and vowed to find a better way to handle the homeless sex offender problem, held a press conference in Riverhead Town Hall Friday afternoon to announce that the trailers would be shut down by the end of the weekend.
"I've got to hand it to Bellone," the legislator said. "With [former county executive Steve] Levy, it didn't matter how many laws we passed to close the trailer. We really needed a new county executive who knew it was bad policy and worked to get it done."
But Schneiderman says he won't rest till they're moved away from the Riverside and Westhampton sites.
"I believe its really important," he said. "First, there's the symbolic reason. Second, I don't want there to be an option of reopening them. And third, I don't want them to be grandfathered in an any way. Once they're moved, putting them back is a new event."
The county's social services agency, which is legally obliged to provide emergency shelter for all homeless persons, placed a trailer in the parking lot of the county jail in Riverside in late 2006 — without advance notice to the community or the county legislator. When its existence became known, county officials said the trailer was placed there temporarily; it was going to be moved to different locations around the county so that no single community would have to bear the burden of hosting the homeless registered sex offenders.
But the trailer never moved from its spot in Riverside and the county placed a second trailer on county-owned land in Westhampton to shelter additional offenders.
Schneiderman and former North Fork legislator Ed Romaine led the charge to get the trailers moved or change the county's method of providing shelter for homeless registered offenders. Their efforts were stymied by the opposition of the former county executive, who advocated for implementing policy that would give offenders a voucher good for a stay in a motel (worth up to $90 per night.) But that plan did not enjoy support from a majority of legislators, who did not want to have homeless registered sex offenders sheltered in motels in their districts.
The stalemate over the homeless sex offender policy lasted more than six years, until the new county executive, who had vowed to end the trailer policy, came up with a plan to house the offenders in mens' shelters around the county as part of a larger plan to ramp up monitoring of registered sex offenders' whereabouts and enhanced enforcement of the laws requiring them to register and update their photos and information with local police.
"He linked closing the trailers with enhancing community protection," Schneiderman said today of Bellone. "He did a good job, he really did."