Senator pushes to remove sex offenders from family shelters
by Jennifer Khedaroo
Feb 11, 2015 | 9167 views | 0 0 comments | 284 284 recommendations | email to a friend | print
State Senator Jeff Klein outside a homeless shelter in Queens.
State Senator Jeff Klein outside a homeless shelter in Queens.
slideshow
"I think we need to stand up and protect the families in the shelters,” said State Senator Jeff Klein outside a homeless shelter in Queens last Friday.

Klein was unveiling a new report about sexual predators living in various family shelters across the city.

Joined by State Senator Leroy Comrie and representatives from the office of State Senator James Sanders, Klein said the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) was still allowing level 2 and 3 sex offenders to live in shelters where nearly 80 percent of the inhabitants are women and children.

"Right now, if you’re a level 2 or 3 offender, you can’t live in a public housing development,” Klein said. "Right now, sexual predators cannot live within 1,000 feet from a school. So why aren’t we doing the same thing to protect children who are living in our family shelters?"

His original investigation of DHS began in August 2007, when his office found six convicted sex offenders living in six different family shelters in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Manhattan. According to Klein’s report, entitled “Uncovering Sex Offenders in the NYC Family Shelter System,” there are currently 10 known sex offenders living in family shelters in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens.

Just weeks ago, Astoria residents came out in droves to speak against the mismanagement of the homeless shelter in the former Westway Inn at 72-05 Astoria Boulevard.

The residents complained about issues such as syringes on the streets, drug deals and constant harassment ever since last summer when Westway Inn became an emergency housing shelter holding 121 families.

Recently, the Westway Inn faced more problems when it was discovered that sex offender James Bryant, 49, was transferred there from the Crystal Family Residence in the Bronx. He was convicted in 2004 for the sexual assault of a seven-year-old girl in Texas and served a decade in jail.

As of Thursday, February 5, Bryant had voluntarily left the shelter following the public outcry. But his relocation from one family shelter to the next was what prompted the senators to seek action.

“We found out after months of its opening that there were two sexual predators living there,” Klein said. "When we notified the DHS, instead of removing them and putting them in a shelter without children, they really played musical chairs with the homeless shelters.”

The Westway Inn is located within State Senator Jose Peralta’s district. Even though he’s glad to hear that Bryant has been removed, he is still outraged by the lack of transparency at DHS.

“I remain extremely concerned by the lack of adequate policies and procedures in place at DHS that would have prevented this dangerous circumstance from occurring,” Peralta said.

Two weeks ago, the State Senate unanimously passed Klein’s legislation that bans level 2 and 3 sex offenders from temporary emergency housing and homeless shelters used by families and children.

According to the report, the screening process for admittance into family shelters is practically nonexistent. The DHS most often refers families to a shelter, and there are no requirements for an individual shelter to check the sex offender registry when a family is admitted.

Comrie applauded Klein and his office for working to get a better situation for the people of his district and beyond.

“It’s horrible that DHS had made promises to correct this issue before, and they only played games with us,” Comrie said. "There’s no reason to put that kind of pressure. Even if the person is trying to redeem themselves, why give them that temptation?”

Christopher Miller, a spokesman for DHS, said that the department “takes safety concerns in its shelters very seriously and, within its legal obligation to provide shelter to anyone in need, is moving forward with proposed policy changes regarding sex offenders in shelters housing families with children.”

Miller later stated that the department has recently proposed changes that would remove the level 2 and 3 offenders from family shelters and place them into the single adult shelter system. Klein suggested that the offenders be moved into male-only shelters or scatter-sites across the city.

If the DHS doesn't comply, Klein vowed the agency would lose funding. But for now, he believes that he is “finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel of a long journey.”

Comments
(0)
Comments-icon Post a Comment
No Comments Yet