By Sandy . . . In September, as Hurricanes Irma and Juan raced across the Gulf Coast states dumping tons of water and destroying homes and lives, advocates geared up for what they knew would be a major battle, and they did not gear up in vain. The treatment of those on the sex offender registry seeking shelter proved as discriminating, as inhumane, and as horrific as feared.
Four months later, another natural disaster spells danger and death for the homeless, and once again those whose names appear on a sex offender registry face the same unfounded and myth-driven discrimination in seeking shelter.
It is winter. Our eastern and northern states, preparing for snow, ice, and plummeting temperatures, also prepare their ready-made speeches: “Sex offenders will not be allowed.”
Some show great duplicity in saying this. A Christian ministry in Alabama, not often a state that must prepare for sub-freezing weather, says that it “wants to make sure no one is without shelter Sunday” when the temperatures are expected to drop drastically. A spokesman said, ” ‘We’ll be removing the pews and stuff and bring in cots and just anybody that needs to come in for the cold weather will be able to.’ ”
The article stresses that “The ministry will be taking in anyone who wants to escape the cold,” and the spokesman continues, “ ‘People need the shelter. I don’t really know too many in this area to take in any and everybody that needs shelter,’ ”
It is not until the last paragraph that we are told, “…sex offenders will not be allowed to stay because of children,” and this is immediately followed with the statement that the ministry “wants people to know that anyone in need is always welcome.”
Well, no, not anyone. Not “sex offenders” – because of the children. What about “sex offenders” who have children? What about “sex offenders” who ARE children?
Once again, advocates who feel that one life has as much value as the next and that those whose past crimes include murder, violence, arson, and drugs may well be more of a risk to children than those whose past crimes were of a sexual nature are gearing up in protest. This is seen in Rhode Island, where discriminatory rules regarding registrants in shelters are being fought.
It will be seen more and more as temperatures drop and the homeless, of whom those on the registry are a disproportionate number due to residency restrictions — another discriminatory and useless practice — try to find shelter from ice and frigid temperatures.
And it will be seen here every time a shelter announces over and over that “anyone” is welcome and then turns their charity into a cruel lie by saying, “Well, no, we don’t mean you.”
Sandy, a NARSOL board member, is communications director for NARSOL, editor-in-chief of the Digest, and a writer for the Digest and the NARSOL website. Additionally, she participates in updating and managing the website and assisting with a variety of organizational tasks.