By Sandy . . . Multiple persons on the North Carolina sex offender registry were told that, if they needed to evacuate due to Hurricane Florence, they could not go to a shelter in a school or a church if it had a school or a daycare. Some were told they couldn’t go to any shelter that had children in it. Some of the prohibitions were accompanied by threats to be arrested if they attempted to enter such a shelter.
Brunswick is one county where mandatory evacuations were issued and major storm impact was anticipated before the fact. The reality lived up to the expectation.
NARSOL has personal knowledge of two residents of Brunswick County. Both received telephone calls making clear where they could NOT seek shelter; one received two recorded phone calls with the information.
Brunswick has three shelters. They are all schools. They have all been declared pet-welcome shelters but registered offenders-prohibited.
The counties closest are New Haven, Columbus, Pender, and Bladen. These counties have, respectively, 5, 5, 4, and 5 shelters. They are all schools. A wider looks at shelters opened in the state shows that over 90% of them are schools.
One of the registrants who contacted NARSOL went to South Carolina. The other had no place else to go and limited means. He and his family stayed in the mobile home in which they live. At last contact they were all still alive.
NARSOL spent Monday and Tuesday verifying with law enforcement and emergency management that registrants would not be allowed in any of the school shelters. Wednesday NARSOL issued a press release detailing the situation; it was distributed not just in North Carolina but nationwide in hopes that enough pressure would be brought to bear to cause North Carolina authorities to re-think the situation.
On Friday, WCNC in Charlotte put up a story with the header, “Sex offenders can stay in public shelters in NC.” In it an accepted plan is laid out. The article cites Bill Holmes, a spokesperson for the State. Mr. Holmes is director of legislative and public affairs for North Carolina. While quietly rejoicing, we wanted verification, and NARSOL contacted WCNC by email and Mr. Holmes through email and telephone. We have not, as of this posting, received a response.
An internet search turned up no other media outlet but WCNC carrying the story. A phone call Saturday morning to North Carolina Emergency Services reached someone who could not verify or deny the information but assured me that the management team would investigate and call me back. If that call materializes, I will update this. For now, this is what we know.
What does this mean? We don’t know. If you are a registrant in North Carolina and need shelter, will you be accepted there? We don’t know. If you ARE a registrant in need of shelter there and are willing to try, please let us know what happens.
This is still very much an on-going story. Expect updates.
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.