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ProJo: Lawsuit to block R.I. limit on sex offenders in shelters goes to court

A U.S. District Court judge on Wednesday will hear a lawsuit by the R.I. affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union challenging the new law, which imposes a 10-percent cap on the number of convicted sex offenders who can be housed in homeless shelters.

PROVIDENCE — A lawsuit that would protect homeless sex offenders from being relocated from a Cranston shelter goes before a U.S. District judge Wednesday afternoon.

The law, which took effect Monday, limits the number of convicted sex offenders who can be housed in homeless shelters. Harrington Hall in Cranston, a state-owned shelter operated by Crossroads Rhode Island, has become a place of last resort for sex offenders whose options for residency have been limited by restrictive residency laws.

The Rhode Island affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union is seeking to prevent the new regulation from taking effect. The suit was filed last week on behalf of a group of registered sex offenders and the Rhode Island Homeless Advocacy Project. It will be heard before U.S. District Court Chief Judge William E. Smith on Wednesday.

Laura Calenda, a spokeswoman for Crossroads, said her agency’s understanding is that the law limiting the number of sex offenders stands, regardless of the ACLU’s lawsuit.

Harrington Hall, which has 112 beds, is an emergency shelter for men experiencing homelessness. It is also one of the few places in Rhode Island where homeless men who are sex offenders can find temporary shelter, according to Calenda.

The new legislation limits the number of beds at Harrington Hall being occupied by sex offenders to 11. As of New Year’s Eve, Calenda said, there were 12 sex offenders staying at the shelter.

“Because Crossroads is committed to ensuring community safety, while also helping homeless or at-risk individuals and families secure stable homes, we have been working diligently to comply with the new law for the last six months,” Calenda said. “Since July, we have found permanent housing for 47 men. Of those, 36 are sex offenders.”

Steven Brown, executive director of the ACLU, said his agency is moving forward with the suit regardless of Crossroad’s effort to reduce the population of sex offenders at the Cranston shelter.

The suit charges that the law violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause and also violates anti-discrimination laws.

The lawsuit also claims that putting sex offenders on the street will make it more difficult for law enforcement to monitor them; decrease their access to community services and increase the risk to public safety; and, by forcing them to shelter outside during the winter, impose life-threatening conditions on them.

“New Year’s Day should be filled with hope, joy and goodwill,” Brown said. “For some people, as a result of this callous law, it will be anything but that. We hope this lawsuit can stop this cold-hearted law from taking effect.”

— lborg@providencejournal.com

(401) 277-7823

On Twitter: @lborgprojocom

Courtesy of Providence Journal 



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