Homeless Sex Offenders
A very sad, but frequent outcome of a sex crime conviction is that the defendant, who often has served a number of years in prison, is then isolated from his family and friends, publicly branded as a “sex offender” and therefore highly unlikely to get a job, and generally banned from most public housing. This leads to many convicted sex offenders becoming homeless. Yet even many homeless shelters cannot/will not accommodate registered sex offenders.
That leaves many sex offenders without housing, employment, crucial vocational training or psychological treatment, or even a support system. It also leads many sex offenders to be found in violation of their probation requirements, which forces them back to prison (essentially) just because they are homeless.
While many citizens may not care about these consequences, studies have shown that these circumstances lead some sex offenders to re-offend (since they have little to lose and therefore no incentive to re-integrate back into society).
It is difficult to find resources for the homeless, but even more difficult to find resources for homeless sex offenders. One incredible exception to that is the St. Francis House in Boston, Massachusetts.
A recent article in the Winter 2011 edition of the “Commonwealth” magazine details the efforts of Fred Smith, the architect behind the foundation. The article tells the story of how Smith saw his uncle get locked away for decades for his mental health issues, then one day “released with a bus ticket to Boston and the name of a minister.” Smith decided to create a foundation that focuses on providing the homeless with the skills (and self-confidence) to find and keep a job.
At St. Francis House, where there is often a lengthy waiting list for admission, participants engage in a 3-½ month course entitled the “Moving Ahead Program” (or “MAP”). The program teaches its students how to accept responsibility for their past, yet focus on the future and their positive attributes. The program just graduated its hundredth class; it already has over one thousand alumni; and receives funding not only from private donations, but also from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development and the National Conference of Mayors. It also boasts a 68% success rate, and has lead to the creation of similar programs in ten other states.
The program is welcoming to all walks of life, including registered sex offenders. In fact, Fred Smith is known to personally help program participants find mental health counseling and sex offender treatment. St. Francis House also provides food, clothing, and even low-cost housing for some of the MAP graduates who find a job.
I am so personally impressed and grateful to the efforts of St. Francis House (and Fred Smith, in particular). Mr. Smith has shown such compassion for those in need, and tirelessly works to make people’s lives better. Instead of allowing its participants to wallow in their circumstances and constantly rehash their wrongs, the MAP program challenges its students to do better with their lives.
One can only hope that there will be more Fred Smiths in the world, until the day that programs like MAP are no longer needed.
Update – 5/16/11:
Earlier this month, London’s Daily Mail Reporter wrote about a homeless sex offender who’d been arrested by the police for failing to register his current address. Nothing out of the ordinary, right?
Well, this New Mexico resident was arrested because he failed to let the police know he’d moved OUT of a dumpster and moved into an abandoned building.
According to the article, the authorities began looking for the offender once they realized he’d been missing from the dumpster for more than ten days. Not sure how vigilant the authorities were being on checking the dumpster periodically, but that’s how they justified the charge.
This exemplifies one of the major problems with registration requirements for homeless sex offenders. Being homeless typically means the person is transient. Requiring these offenders to update their “address” every time they move from a park bench to a dumpster to a homeless shelter and everywhere in between seems pretty difficult when most homeless offenders are just trying to find the next place to take shelter and find nourishment.
What do you think about registration requirements for homeless offenders? Do you think they are necessary? Should they be increased? Or are they setting these already disadvantaged people up for failure?
SOs Win Suit Filed After Homeless Sex Offender Freezes to Death in 2009 (posted 12/30/11):
Like many sex offenders who become homeless, one Michigan man was turned away from a homeless shelter in 2009 because it was located within 1,000 feet of a school. Sadly, the night he was turned away, the weather was below zero, and the man froze to death on the streets.
Several other homeless sex offenders filed suit in Federal Court, seeking a ruling that would allow them to stay in shelters regardless of the residency restriction.
According to a local news article, approximately 20% of all sex offenders in downtown Grand Rapids are homeless, and several shelters in the area fall within the 1,000’ restriction.
A Federal Judge recently found in favor of the sex offenders, noting that the word “reside” means a permanent place to stay. If the individual sex offender needs an emergency shelter due to severe weather conditions, arrives at night and leaves in the morning, and has no expectation of having a place to sleep in the shelter each night, the offender is not “residing” at the shelter and can stay.
Unfortunately, this problem about homeless sex offenders exists throughout this country. Many shelters cannot accept an offender because the shelter is either too close to a school, park or day care, or houses women or children in the shelter.
While there are arguable justifications for a residency restriction, many times the restrictions force offenders out on to the streets.
Do you think there should be exceptions for shelters? Emergency shelters? If not, where should homeless offenders go to seek shelter?
Failing to Register for being Homeless? Not fair, says WI Supreme Court (posted 3/15/12):
William Dinkins Sr. was charged with violating Wisconsin’s sex offender registration law because he had no address to provide the state before he was released from prison.
Sadly, the trial court found that Dinkins had an obligation to list a residence, even if he did not have one.
Thankfully, the state’s Court of Appeals reversed the conviction, and this week, the Wisconsin Supreme Court affirmed that reversal, according to the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel Online.
According to JSOnline, the case applies specifically to Dinkins’ case, and most likely would not apply to other sex offenders convicted after 1999. In those cases, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections would be responsible for finding a halfway house or other adequate public housing for the sex offender before he or she is released.
If an offender becomes homeless, the DOC has now adopted new guidelines to allow the offender to call in each week to update the DOC on where he or she has been sleeping.
Do you think it is fair that a sex offender be required to find housing when many sex offenders are banned from a lot of housing opportunities?
For more information about legal representation of those charged with sex crimes, please visit: http://katherinegodinlaw.com/areas-of-law/sex-crimes/
Katherine E. Godin, Esq.
The Law Office of Katherine Godin, Inc.
615 Jefferson Blvd.
Warwick, RI 02886
Phone: (401) 274-2423
Fax: (401) 489-7580