Housing the Unwanted

What was once a medical office was turned into an illegal rooming house for parolees, sex offenders and homeless adult men in Flatbush, Brooklyn. The orange brick exterior leads to Horizon Hope Center, where upwards of 40 men reside in doorless units. Photo by Jie Jenny Zou.

What was once a medical office was turned into an illegal rooming house for parolees, sex offenders and homeless adult men in Flatbush, Brooklyn. The orange brick exterior leads to Horizon Hope Center, where upwards of 40 men reside in doorless units. Photo by Jie Jenny Zou.

Read the full story here:
The New York World’s Housing the Unwanted

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I have always been interested in how governments handle sex offenders after hearing scattered reports of offenders living in clustered, and often dilapidated, housing throughout the U.S. There’s even “Miracle Village” in southern Florida, home to a tight-knit community of more than 100 offenders alone, and five miles away from the nearest town.

What happens when a government restricts where you can live for several years based on the types of buildings that surround the address? In densely-developed areas like New York City, it means sex offenders on parole are assigned to a combination of homeless shelters and for-profit rooming buildings called “three-quarter houses.” Both come at a cost to the taxpayer, and neither are suited to help offenders reenter society following prison time, according to criminal justice experts.

Problems with housing the unwanted didn’t start or stop in urban areas. Clusters of sex offenders were found statewide, spurring community uproar and legislative action to bar the offenders from residing in certain neighborhoods. Housing sex offenders became both so politically unfavorable and logistically difficult that New York State correction officials began keeping some offenders behind bars beyond their maximum release dates.

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I received dozens of letters and calls from sex offenders in New York State prisons while reporting on residency restrictions. Photo By Jie Jenny Zou

Often times, as a reporter, you find yourself scrounging for sources and doing all you can (within reason and journalistic ethics) to get people to go on the record. But these past few months reporting this particular story have been an outlier of sorts. I found myself receiving dozens of letters and phone calls from people who were all potential sources and had experienced very similar situations. The final story only features quotes and details from a select number of offenders, but it was the culmination of more than 20 interviews and letters with offenders across the state.

The story started with data, specifically, New York State Sex Offender Registry data, which would give us a snapshot of where offenders lived. But after that came traditional reporting: property record checks, background checks, and my personal favorite: stakeouts/doorknocking.