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How officials track where sex offenders live and help them locate appropriate housing
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The local office of the Georgia Department of Community Supervision is on Aviation Boulevard in Gainesville. - photo by Shannon Casas

For the past four months, J has been searching for mostly one thing: a bed.

He was released from prison June 6 and has spent much of the time since then living under a bridge.

J is a registered sex offender who spoke on the condition of anonymity in fear of reprisals.

“Nobody wants a sex offender around them,” he said.

With just two years left on his probation, J went before Superior Court Judge Bonnie Oliver this week to modify his probation to live at a boarding house, despite its proximity to some churches.

J, who will turn 58 this year, said disability checks would cover the $115 a week for the boarding house.

According to the law, sex offenders may not live “within 1,000 feet of any child care facility, church, school, or area where minors congregate.” The distance is measured by the outer boundaries of the properties rather than the buildings.

They also cannot participate in Halloween, according to state law. 

The Department of Community Supervision works to ensure offenders are compliant with these rules. 

“Some probationers/parolees including sex offenders will be required to report to local DCS offices or alternative meeting locations during trick-or-treating hours,” the DCS said last year in a news release. DCS did not respond to questions about plans for this year.

Meanwhile, some communities place signs in offenders’ yards warning families not to trick-or-treat at the offenders' homes. A lawsuit against that practice has recently been filed in federal court by three Butts County sex offenders. A hearing on that is set for Thursday.

While the holiday presents issues, housing is an issue yearround.

There are not many places in Gainesville where a sex offender can live, according to Hall County sex offender registration supervisor Lt. Scott Ware.

“The restrictions are very tight, and most places in the city of Gainesville, there’s going to be either a church, a playground, a swimming pool. Most motel/hotels have swimming pools, and those are going to be prohibited,” Ware said. “There’s a lot of places, particularly within the city limits, that are not going to work.”

Oliver agreed to sign the order allowing J to live at the boarding house as long as he did not “enter upon the premise of any church,” according to court records.

Ware said there are a dozen sex offenders registered homeless out of the 310 people on the Hall County sex offender registry.

DCS officers work to keep track of sex offenders, even if they are homeless.

“Our officers strive for the best interests of public safety: knowing where a supervised sex offender sleeps, even if it is a homeless location, is better than being uncertain about where they are and having no consistent way to contact a sex offender or check on their whereabouts or activities,” DCS public information officer Jamelle Washington wrote in an email.

Of the 12 sex offenders listed as homeless in the Hall County registry, four of them are in jail or prison, Ware said. Another one has absconded and has active warrants, he said.

But the Department of Community Supervision has been working to combat homelessness among probationers and parolees.

“Although DCS officers work diligently to identify resource options for all supervised individuals, some barriers pose a significant challenge,” Washington said. “For example, identifying stable housing for offenders, especially residential options for registered sex offenders, remain a barrier to successful reentry. The unfortunate reality is that housing options for these populations are often extremely limited and sometimes nonexistent, especially in rural communities.”

Though Ware said the local sex offender office does not often give out compliant housing areas, DCS has a portal through its website to help probationers with housing options.

The two avenues are called Transitional Housing for Offender Reentry and Reentry Partnership Housing, with 72 and 39 active providers, respectively.

Only six of the transitional housing providers allow sex offenders, and none are located close to Gainesville or Hall County. Washington said seven reentry partnership providers allow sex offenders, but Washington did not return multiple inquiries asking if any are in the Gainesville/Hall County area.

“A lot of the homeless people do end up congregating together initially, specifically when they first get out of prison, until they find a permanent place to lay their head,” Ware said.

Though homelessness is often seen as people living on the street, Ninth District Opportunity housing manager Michael Fisher described three tiers of homelessness.

The bottom rung are those seen living on the streets or in vehicles, which is one of the largest growing sectors of the homeless population, Fisher said.

The middle tier are those living in shelters, where there are often not enough beds to support those experiencing homelessness in the community.

The top tier are people who are couch-surfing or “doubling up,” when more than one family lives under one roof.

“While stable for the moment, families are extremely vulnerable,” Fisher wrote in an email.

“Disagreements, lease provisions, overburdening a home can lead to a quick exit and a life on the street.”

Fisher announced Wednesday, Oct. 23, to a number of community partners that Ninth District has received funding from the Department of Community Affairs to help with general homelessness.

The funding allows for hotel/motel vouchers as temporary respite, prevention funding — helping someone at risk of eviction — and rehousing, which helps someone in a sleeping situation “not meant for human habitation.”

“Historically, we usually run out of funding in the late spring/early summer, but lately we’ve been able to stretch it a little further into the summer. We never get to September,” Fisher said.

From November 2018 to August, Ninth District Opportunity helped 33 families with prevention funding, 51 families with rehousing and 19 families with hotel/motel vouchers.

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