Williamsburg homeless shelter refuses to take sex offenders

A Williamsburg homeless shelter is refusing to accept dozens of sex offenders the city is trying to pawn off on it, and says it is putting any that show up at its door into a van and driving them right back to the Manhattan shelter from whence they came.

The Peter Jay Sharp Center for Opportunity is suing the city to stop it from sending up to 50 homeless sex offenders the shelter says it has neither the beds nor expertise to accommodate. A judge on Wednesday rejected the facility’s request for a temporary restraining order to keep them out, but the center says it will continue to send any of the new arrivals packing in order to keep its staff safe and prevent its current residents from being pushed out.

“If that means fighting the city all the way to the wall, that is what we are going to do,” said Alexander Horwitz, director of external affairs for the Doe Fund, which operates the 400-bed shelter on Porter Avenue between Johnson Avenue and Ingraham Street.

The Department of Homeless Services is already trying to send the shelter at least 34 men who have been convicted of sex crimes, and told the center it wants to send more in the coming months. The shelter claims the city is forcing it to become “an outer-borough warehouse for sex offenders,” when it is supposed to be a “back-to-work program” providing temporary housing for men trying to turn their lives around, according to Courthouse News Service.

The Doe Fund employs the shelter’s residents in its “Ready, Willing, and Able” street-cleaning teams and puts them through educational programs. But the 400-bed center would have to kick out one man for each sex offender who moves in, interrupting their employment and training and shunting them off to other shelters around the city, Horwitz said.

“These guys are right in the middle of their programs here and we are doing good work with them,” said Horwitz.

Many of the sex offenders the city is trying to relocate have been living in a shelter in the Kips Bay neighborhood of Manhattan for years, but the city recently decided they were too close to a nearby school. The Porter Avenue shelter makes a convenient alternative because it is one of the few facilities in the city that meets the legal requirement of being more than 1,000 feet from any school, said Horwitz.

The men do need an appropriate place to stay, he said, but the facility is not set up to treat sex offenders, and its staff does not have the training to support them.

“These people need services, but we have no expertise in that area,” said Horwitz. “That is not who we serve.”

The shelter says it has already turned away a handful of sex offenders the city has sent its way. In doing so, it is breaking its contract with the Department of Homeless Services, which could respond by cutting the $7.5 million in annual funding it gives the shelter, which has a total yearly budget of $15.2 million. But Horwitz said that would be a very shortsighted move, as it would just put more New Yorkers out on the street.

“If they cut the funding, they are going to be increasing the number of homeless people in this city,” said Horwitz.

This is not the first time the city’s attempts to relocate the Kips Bay sex offenders have raised hackles in Brooklyn. Residents in Greenpoint were outraged when news reports in April claimed the city had moved some of the men to a shelter on Clay Street.

One local pol say the city needs to do a better job finding appropriate facilities for homeless men with sex crime convictions and keeping the community in the loop about where they’re living.

“People are fearful — they know that sex offenders in the shelter system are not getting the oversight that is warranted,” said Assemblyman Joe Lentol (D–Williamsburg). “We need to have transparent policies in place so people aren’t left in the dark wondering whether sex offenders are being placed in their neighborhoods.”

Reach reporter Danielle Furfaro at dfurfaro@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her at twitter.com/DanielleFurfaro.