Indiana taxpayers are apparently paying for at least six sex offenders to live in two Allen County motels indefinitely after they were forced to move out of the Fort Wayne Rescue Mission.
When legislators declared the Rivergreenway a park last year, it meant most convicted sex offenders could not live within 1,000 feet of it, in accordance with state law. The Rescue Mission is within 1,000 feet of a stretch of the greenway.
Law enforcement did not start enforcing that law until last week, however, and the sex offenders on probation or parole were forced to leave the shelter Friday.
According to two of those offenders and the Rescue Mission, the state is paying for the offenders’ accommodations for an undetermined period.
The Indiana Department of Correction would neither confirm nor deny Wednesday afternoon that the state was paying to house the sex offenders in the motels.
Gary Vasko is one of the offenders who was forced to move and said he is living in a motel room paid for by the state.
After living at the Rescue Mission for five months, he said his parole officer told him a week ago to leave the mission Friday and stay in a motel on the city’s east side.
He said he has no idea how long the state will pay for his lodging.
“I think it’s wrong because I was in a drug program putting my life together and I was thrown out on the street,” he said. “I don’t think it’s fair. I did my time, almost 10 years in prison, 18 years ago. I got released, and I’m still paying for it.”
Vasko said he doesn’t have a job because he couldn’t under the drug rehabilitation program.
Now, he takes the bus to the mission daily to receive free meals.
Five of the relocated sex offenders are living at a motel on the city’s east side while one is staying at a motel on Bluffton Road. Taxpayers are paying $40.50 a person – or $202 a night – for the five staying at the east-side motel while the general rate at the Bluffton Road motel starts at $30 a night.
Detective Jeff Shimkus with the Allen County Sheriff’s Department said it hasn’t targeted the mission before because people usually live there temporarily.
If an offender is living somewhere he shouldn’t, officers notify him and give him 45 days to move, Shimkus said. Most people stay at the mission for only 30 days, he said, so it made no sense to target the mission.
“If the guy leaves, where does he go? I’d rather have him under supervision at the mission where he’s reporting to me in person every seven days,” Shimkus said. “I’d much rather have them there, living next to the park, than have him disappear and move across town and live next to a school where I don’t know where he is. It’s a Catch-22. We have to enforce the law, but it’s just one of those things – a problematic area.”
By law, sex offenders who are declared sexually violent predators or offenders against children can’t live within 1,000 feet of a school, child-care center or park.
But not all sex offenders have that restriction, Shimkus said.
Offenders who have been convicted of the less serious charge of sexual battery or sexual misconduct don’t usually have that restriction, but parole officers can put that special condition on them during their probation or parole period, Shimkus said.
Under Indiana law, sex offenders have three days to give their new address to the sex offender registry. Failing to do so can result in a felony charge.
But offenders can also be charged with violating parole if they live on the street.
Rescue Mission Pastor and President Jim Dance said he assumed the state was paying for the motel rooms because the men that stay at the mission have no money, which is why they’re living at the mission.
“The reality is I think they’re struggling on how to follow this law when there are not many places for offenders to go,” he said. “I’m not sure there’s real concern about that at another level. It may simply be another move by the state to keep offenders incarcerated because if they can’t find a place to live, they have no choice but to go back to prison.”
This was another one of those bright ideas pushed by Advance America's Eric Miller and the American Family Association's Micah Clark. You can bet this is just the first of many similar predicaments to come about as a result of the passage of this law. It wasn't enough to require all the sex offenders to have their names listed in a public registry which could be accessed by the public. The law's requirement means that vast areas of any city in the state are off-limits to convicted sex offenders who've already served their time to society. I suppose the proponents expect all of them to move to the rural areas of the state where many of their supporters reside. That's the practical consequence of the law.