November 5, 2011

The end of ‘Bookville’ homeless camp under the Tuttle?

11-5-2011 Florida:

Where did all the sex offenders go after their eviction last year from under the Julia Tuttle Causeway? Reporter Robert Lyle’s WLRN radio series tracked down several former residents of this unlamented monument to the law of unintended consequences, and we want to add further information.

The causeway colony, the subject of lurid international headlines and a recent novel by Russell Banks, resulted from local laws that restrict sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet — one-half mile — from places that children gather, like schools, parks and school bus stops. In a dense urban county like ours, there is almost no affordable housing outside these boundaries. The inevitable consequence of these laws was to force sex offenders into homelessness.

The state had already passed a carefully-considered 1,000-foot law that would have allowed shelter for most of the county’s offenders. Furthermore, a geo-mapping survey proved there were far more registered sex offenders in the county than affordable housing units outside the 2,500-foot zone. Finally, social scientists have achieved rare unanimity about two issues: (1) housing instability increases the risk of recidivism among all offenders, and (2) residing near a school or park does not increase the already-low recidivism rate by the vast majority of sex offenders.

But lobbyist Ron Book, driven by his daughter’s widely-reported abuse by the family nanny, championed the residency restrictions. He insisted they were necessary to protect children, and that there was adequate housing outside the banishment zone. He derided those who disagreed as advocates for predators; he called their studies “suspect.”

The link between Book’s campaign and the causeway colony was so direct that those who lived there came to call it “Bookville.”

Once Bookville became an international embarrassment, it paradoxically fell to Book, as chairman of the Homeless Trust, to find shelter for its occupants. After boarding up the camp, Book used federal stimulus money to buy short-term stays (6-12 months) in housing, costing up to $1,000 a month for offenders who, without Book’s laws, could have lived for free with friends and family.

These arrangements were controversial for reasons other than funding source, duration and cost. Book placed 13 predators (“real bad guys,” he said) within a half-square mile in the quiet family neighborhood of Shorecrest. “We ran the Shorecrest ZIP code and it just popped up as an eligible site. So I drove it and determined that it would be a good fit to relocate the sexual predators,” Book explained. Shorecrest’s residents do not agree with Book’s assessment of “fit.” He placed another 43 in a cramped trailer park “teeming” with children.

Whatever the merits of Book’s resettlement efforts, he cautioned they were temporary: “I can’t pay rent for these people forever. It runs for a period of time and runs out.” Indeed, soon afterwards, Book declared an end to the Trust’s aid for the Bookville exiles: “As far as we’re concerned, our help for people under the bridge is done.” He acknowledged, however, that without this aid, many would “end up back somewhere on the streets,” adding ominously “We just don’t know where.”

How right Book was. Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s registry (the numbers change monthly) reveals that of 1,960 sex offenders/predators in Miami-Dade County, 256 — about one out of seven — have absconded. Absconders are those sex offenders who have stopped reporting their whereabouts, or cut off their ankle monitors, or otherwise escaped supervision. Of those who have not yet absconded, 191 are homeless. They sleep under bridges, or in lots and fields throughout the county. Somewhere between this rainy season and the end of winter, some of these homeless offenders may also abscond.

Boarding up Bookville hasn’t solved the problem of these laws. It has merely created another set of problems. ..Source.. by Valerie Jonas who is a South Florida attorney specializing in criminal defense appeals. Dr. Walter G. Bradley is professor and chairman emeritus of the Department of Neurology at the University of Miami medical school.

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