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More than 20 sex offenders are living in a South Ozone Park shelter that is 1,000 feet away from PS 124, according to the New York state sex offender registry.
The Skyway Shelter, at 132-10 South Conduit Ave., is a men-only homeless shelter that used to be a family facility until last year. According to the registry, 24 sex offenders currently live there, many of whom have records of violent offenses and offenses against minors.
City Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) charged in a phone interview that the city Department of Homeless Services did not live up to its assurances to the community that it would try to keep sex offenders out of the facility.
“You’re basically using our children as cheese on a mousetrap,” he said.
A staff member from Wills’ office attended a Community Board 10 meeting Sept. 6 to alert attendees to the issue and to an upcoming town hall meeting addressing it.
Wills said DHS made the promise to the school and the PTA after the Skyway Shelter was converted from a family shelter to a men-only facility, and it was discovered a handful of sex offenders were housed there.
A spokeswoman for DHS said it is obligated under law to provide housing for people who qualify.
“Pursuant to court orders, Homeless Services is under legal mandate to provide shelter to all homeless individuals or eligible families regardless of their criminal background, including sex offender status,” said Heather Janik, DHS press secretary.
DHS does not perform background checks on shelter applicants and relies on self-reports or reports from the state Division of Parole or other government agencies for information about whether a person has sex offender status.
The Division of Parole is required to provide notice when the most serious offenders are coming to a social service district and DHS takes that under consideration when placing offenders in a shelter, but an official with the DHS said it rarely, if ever, receives notices from Parole.
Wills said, however, that the Skyway Shelter is employment-based and it should be asking background questions about things like sexual offender status that may bar a person from certain jobs.
He said that in October there will be a town hall held in conjunction with the school and efforts were underway to teach children how to remain safe and to set up corridors and other basic security measures around the school to make sure the area is well-patrolled.
He said that although he understands DHS has an obligation to place people who need housing and he does not want to alarm the community, he questions placing such a large concentration of sex offenders in southern Queens.
He said he is pushing for the Council to have a meeting to see why this is happening and if it is occurring in other minority communities.
Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4538.
©2012 Community Newspaper Group
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