New Playground Opening Drives Registered Sex Offenders Out of Group Home

October 19, 2009 by David S. Seltzer

Ever since the story broke about sex offenders in Miami-Dade being directed to live under the Julia Tuttle Causeway, I have kept an eye out for articles on the issue of where registered sex offenders may live in South Florida. That’s why, as a Fort Lauderdale sex offender registration defense lawyer, I was disappointed to see that authorities are expected to allow one of the few homes for registered offenders to close because of a new playground opened two blocks away earlier this year. According to an Oct. 17 article in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, eight residents requested an injunction allowing them to remain at the Mission of St. Francisco in Fort Lauderdale. But because of financial problems with the mission, the remaining residents have agreed to move out by Oct. 21.

St. Francis provides supervision, therapy and spiritual help for its all-male residents. Residents pay rent, work, attend chapel and therapy and follow the home’s rules. Originally a substance abuse residential treatment center, it slowly became a center for sex offenders after beginning to admit them in 2005. Residents interviewed for the article say the home has been good for them, and a social worker and academic interviewed for the article said the community and programming at St. Francis were probably ideal for stopping recidivism. However, when the playground opened in January, it triggered Florida’s sex offender residency law, which forbids registered sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of any place where children congregate.

The residency law came under fire over the summer when media reports showed that a group of sex offenders were living under the Julia Tuttle Causeway in Miami. Like Fort Lauderdale, Miami-Dade has a strict sex offender residency law requiring registered sex offenders to stay 2,500 feet away from parks, schools and homeless shelters. This made it nearly impossible to find housing in the densely populated county, leading the Florida Department of Corrections to order some of the offenders to live under the bridge. St. Francis resident Michael Navarro faces similar problems in Broward County. He told the Sun-Sentinel that the state Department of Corrections gave him a list of approved areas to live, but the closest was in Fort Myers, about 140 miles away.

Chris Mancini, an attorney for the St. Francis residents, said sex offenders evicted by residency requirements tend to become homeless, making it nearly impossible for law enforcement to know where they are. As a Miami sex offender registration defense attorney, I couldn’t agree more. The goal of sex offender registration and residency laws is to allow law enforcement and the community to keep track of offenders. Laws that make it impossible for offenders to find a permanent address actively undermine that goal, allowing offenders with bad intentions to slip under the radar. As this article shows, they can also undermine efforts by the offenders themselves to overcome their problems and become productive members of society.

As a South Florida sex offender registration violation lawyer, I’d like to add that laws that indirectly or directly require homelessness are a failure of our society. Regardless of what these offenders may have done, they should not be ordered, under threat of arrest and possible re-incarceration, to become homeless. Nor should we intentionally take away one of the few housing options available to these people, however important a new playground may be. Miami-Dade is currently embroiled in litigation over the issue, but we do not need a court to tell us that this situation is not acceptable.