Eviction for Homeless Sex Offenders?

By: Gerri L. Elder

In most states, convicted sex offenders face unique and strict penalties, including restrictions on where they’re permitted to live and work. Typically, restrictions are based on proximity to schools – those convicted of sex crimes are limited to housing options greater than a given distance from places where children gather.

A recent incident in Florida highlights concerns about the practicality of some such criminal laws.

According to reports from the Miami Herald, sex offenders in Miami-Dade County have so few living options that many have congregated under a bridge on the Julia Tuttle Causeway. While bridge-living itself is nothing new, the county’s alleged policy certainly is. Reports suggest that law enforcement officials have recommended the bridge to several convicts.

Statewide, Florida law prevents sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school. But in Miami-Dade County, that limit was expanded to 2,500 feet in 2005. The result? According to sources, the county has almost no land on which sex offenders can legally set up homes.

The Julia Tuttle Causeway bridge, mentioned above, is one of the few countywide locations that meets the requirements for sex offender habitation.

But recent “evictions” of bridge-dwellers in other parts of the state by those who owned the land under the bridges has reportedly led city officials to worry about the sex offenders in Miami-Dade County. According to the Miami New Times, those living under the Julia Tuttle Causeway bridge have been told to get out.

Several issues have arisen since the city ordered people out from under the bridge.

First, where are these convicted sex offenders supposed to go? Though the city allegedly offered a list of potential living options, most of the locations were hundreds of miles away. The state is evidently not providing travel fees or money for resettlement, so it’s up to the evicted offenders to come up with the cash.

Second, according to the New Times, at least one of the motels offered as a potential place of residence has asserted itself as “family friendly” and would not knowingly house a sex offender.

And what about the registration requirement? In Florida, as in many states, sex offenders are required to register for life, providing a home address and place of employment to a database that can be accessed by the general public.

If offenders are unable to find a place to live that meets all legal requirements, some worry that they will simply go “underground” – not register and live in an unknown area where they cannot be monitored by law enforcement officials.

The New Times reports that the American Civil Liberties Union has gotten involved in the case and has pointed out that arresting someone simply for being homeless is unconstitutional.

The future is uncertain for these convicted sex offenders. Their unusually difficult circumstances provide a glimpse of how even the best intentions of lawmakers can have unintended and unpleasant side effects.