February 28, 2011 / 11:52 PM / 6 years ago

Florida sex offender camp closes; alternatives scarce

3 Min Read

ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - A makeshift camp in woods near downtown Orlando, where a homeless advocate says county corrections officers parked sex offenders with no place else to go, was closed on Monday, sending more than two dozen sex offenders in search of new homes.

"The probation office had actually driven some of them from the jail to the camp," said Cathy Jackson, executive director of the Homeless Services Network (HSN) of Central Florida.

Jackson said the camp had been in existence for at least five years and included another 16 people with drug or mental problems.

The HSN worked with Orlando police for the past three weeks to relocate camp residents after the private property owner decided to evict them. The last 10 packed up to leave Monday morning.

"It is very difficult for sex offenders to find housing. There are many, many restrictions in Florida," said Jo Ellyn Rackleff, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Corrections.

Local laws ban sex offenders from living near places where children gather, such as schools, parks, bus stops, and small day care centers which can crop up almost anywhere.

"When you draw a circle around these areas ... very frequently there's almost nowhere else to live," Rackleff said.

After release from prison, she said, sex offenders often need to provide the probation office with a permanent address, heed a curfew and wear -- and be able to recharge -- an electronic monitoring device.

Even though a camp like the one in Orlando doesn't satisfy those requirements, Rackleff said the state rarely charges them with a probation violation "as long as they are demonstrating a good faith effort."

"Judges have ruled it is not against the law to be homeless," she said.

According to information provided by Rackleff, two approved residence sites will become home for some of the sex offenders while others have identified four alternative wooded areas that are being checked by probation officers for compliance with laws pertaining to sex offenders.

Editing by Jerry Norton

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