Friday, January 02, 2009

Good Article in the Washington Post

Sexually Based Offender Law Encourages Homelessness

When I started working 14 years ago, everyone who showed up at the door had the possibility of finding housing. Many were not very good candidates for housing because of debt or criminal background, but there was nothing that was an insurmountable barriers to housing homeless individuals. Now, with the ill-conceived sexually based offender laws, there are many people sleeping in our shelters or on the streets that we have no chance of housing. There was a nice article in the Washington Post about this new issue that effects every community in the country.

There are now a group of men and a few woman who have no possibility of getting into housing. Being labeled a "Sexual Predator" for life and all the hassles associated with that make these individuals un-houseable. We can work all day, but the reality is that they cannot work or live near a child care facility, which turns out to be most of the City and County. Then there are the majority of the landlords who do not want the community notification, and so they bar these individuals from renting a place. Almost all the subsidized properties in the community exclude sexually based offenders. So, these men serve their time, and then they are stuck when they get out. In most of the big cities in Ohio, they cannot even sleep in the shelters. We have one facility in Cleveland that still allows homeless people with a sexually based offense to sleep inside. But in Columbus, Cincinnati, and Dayton there are no shelters for the sexually based offenders, and so the men sleep on the streets.

How stupid a system have we designed here? Men who violently attack women or children are released to sleep on the street. How safe is that for the community? It is one thing to punish people, but to force them to live on the streets seems like torture to me. The reality is that a large majority of the people who abuse children have a relationship with the children (family, friends or acquiantences) they abuse. It is rare that a total stranger kidnaps and abuses a child. These cases make the news and terrify parents, but it is not the norm. At this point, the law probably has the opposite affect in that it encourages the death of the child in order to reduce the number of witnesses. The lifetime punishment is so horrible that the offender might as well go all the way in order to avoid life as an outcast. For many death or life in prison is better than life living on the streets. Legislators throughout the United States need to rethink this community notification and bans on where sexually based offenders can live. If we want to go for a life time punishment then we need to set up some special housing for these individuals that they can be monitored. Forcing the shelters/outreach workers to be the lifetime babysitters for those designated as sexually predators is bad public policy.

Brian Davis
Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

1 comment:

CynDe said...

As obedient upstanding productive citizens with a good paying job in a 'perfect' world, looking for that dream house with the white picket fence, we are so cautious in researching communities for the best schools, the safest neighborhoods, property values and we are discriminating in our concern as to who could be living next door.

Once job, health, family, home, etc. in that 'perfect' world is lost, we can find ourselves on the streets or in a shelter without knowing who is sleeping in the bunk beside us or walking the same streets and hanging on the corner in zip code 44114.

Stations in life can change overnight.

When I was homeless, hard telling how many sex offenders I may have spoken with at breakfast or lunch in a neighborhood of over 100 sex offenders.

I never asked.

We need to differentiate between the child molester, the violent rapist (the criminals) and the 18 or 19 year old who had consensual sex with a 16 or 17 year old girlfriend or boyfriend.

I graduated with many of the latter and personally know of no parent who requested statutory rape charges be pursued. Couples married, even in high school and I know many who are now grandparents.

Rather than turn the criminals loose to the shelter system, I think it makes better sense to provide housing in a type of dormitory community where the offender can apply their trade to earn their keep rather than be housed at the expense of city, state and the federal governments.

As a landlady, I presently have construction workers as tenants. I have not felt the necessity of running a background check since the company that employs these workers would have great difficulty hiring sex offenders with the amount of state to state transfers these workers have to make to retain their jobs.

Once the two industrial construction projects here end in five years and my tenant base changes, I will be forced to do background checks on all applicants.

After all, I now have that house with the white picket fence, in the safe neighborhood (where there is a school bus stop 50 feet away), with my newly appraised property value increase of $20,000 and the wonderful neighbors (with children) to take into consideration.

And, once again, my station in life changed... overnight.