SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

June 11, 2014

Our view: State, shelters need to clarify sex offender policy

Massachusetts needs to better explain its rules for allowing registered sex offenders to stay in state-funded homeless shelters. Confusion over the regulations has created a situation in which some North Shore shelters allow offenders, while others turn them away. Residents in the neighborhoods surrounding these shelters deserve clarity.

The discrepancy came to light after 72-year-old Roger Bedard, a Level 3 sex offender, was arrested in May on a charge of assaulting an unconscious woman in Salem’s Riley Plaza. Police reported — incorrectly — that Bedard and his victim were staying at the nearby Lifebridge homeless shelter. Level 3 offenders are considered the most dangerous and at the highest risk of repeat offenses.

Lifebridge Director Jason Etheridge said that while his group does not accept sex offenders into its Seeds of Hope apartment program, the state requires they be allowed into its homeless shelter, which receives about $400,000 a year from the state.

“We are not allowed to deny service to someone because of their (sex offender) level,” Etheridge said.

In Beverly, those running the River House shelter have a different interpretation.

The shelter, which is near a park and a residential neighborhood, banned sex offenders of any level two years ago after police and then-Mayor William Scanlon raised concerns.

“That’s one of the first questions we ask,” Director Kate Benashki said. “There are children in the neighborhood just up the street.”

Like Lifebridge, River House receives state money. That doesn’t mean that Benashki feels obligated to accept sex offenders.

“That’s not my understanding,” she told reporter Neil Dempsey.

A copy of the Department of Health and Community Development contract doesn’t reference sex offenders or criminal backgrounds, stating simply, “The contractor shall admit to its shelter all homeless individuals seeking shelter for whom a bed is available unless such individual has violated the shelter’s rights and responsibilities.”

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