Sunday, April 6, 2014

Lisa Suhay: Virginia's Homeless Sex Offenders Need Shelter and Redemption

Dear Ms. Suhay, 

I just read your editorial in the Virginian Pilot, Suhay: Homeless offenders need shelter and redemption (See article below) and I knew I had to send you a thank you email right away. 

Just two months ago there was a proposal at the 2014 Virginia G.A. to restrict movement and contact of RSO’s at libraries. The Commonwealth’s Attorney that made the request for the bill told me on the phone in January that she knew it was unconstitutional to ban RSO’s from libraries but basically the bill in its original form and its amended form would have done just that. I was the ONLY person to speak publically against the proposal and sent mass email blasts against the amended version. You can read about the bill in older posts from my blog here , , , , , , . 

Thankfully the proposed 2014 bill “died” in the Finance Committee I believe due to the points I raised against it. But, if I had not been there to monitor the bills and been willing to speak against this one I believe because a C.A. asked for it, it had a very, very good chance of becoming law this July. As you hold your chess groups at a Norfolk library and at least one of your members would have been affected by the proposed law I wanted you to understand how often and how easily small rights and freedoms of those you serve are regularly taken away, for no good reason. 

I know that speaking up for those our Government and that Victims groups regularly call “heinous monsters” isn’t an easy path. I know that when a good article or editorial does gets published there are usually hateful, ignorant and cruel comments from the public against it. 

I want to thank you for helping and accepting Anthony as the person he wants to be, not for the person he was when a non-contact crime was committed. That brief moment in time when he made a stupid mistake is all the state of Virginia will ever see him as and they will use it to continually punish him year after year, hoping he will just give up and go away.  

I hope and pray Anthony doesn’t give up and can one day soon become a successful member of society who has a roof over his head, a job he is proud to hold and maybe even someone to love. Until then he has someone with a kind heart like you to keep him afloat. 

Mary Devoy

Lisa Suhay: Homeless offenders need shelter and redemption, April 6, 2014

Helping the homeless may begin with a hot meal and shelter for the night, but if we want to end homelessness, our efforts must extend to leaps of faith and acts of humanity. 

Because my brother, age 44, is bipolar, unwilling to accept my help and often homeless by choice in New Jersey and New York City, I tend to compensate by extending what little assistance I can to those within my reach. 

I have learned about the harsh realities facing the homeless men, women and children of our region. The rules for homeless shelters are pretty similar from state to state. Adults who have been convicted of a sex crime are not welcome at most - they often end up sleeping outdoors. And shelters don't allow "guests" during daylight hours. 

When I volunteered in January to help with the Norfolk Emergency Shelter Team at my church, I was told the daytime rule is designed to encourage homeless people to seek more permanent arrangements, rather than making a safety net into a hammock. 

Therefore, during the daytime when it's extremely cold or hot, the homeless gravitate to libraries and shopping malls - when not trudging all over town to find meals.

Over the past six years, I have run a free chess program, the Norfolk Initiative for Chess Excellence, at libraries, community centers, schools and parks. 

Chess venues and the homeless have a lot of overlap. 

A few months ago I met Anthony, 44, who is one of those consigned to homeless purgatory after having committed the crime of downloading child pornography onto his home computer five years ago. 

Learning he was homeless took a month. And I didn't find out he is a registered sex offender due to the pornographic downloads until last week. 

All I knew was he plays chess well, is genius at helping others understand the game and is always at the library on Saturdays. 

I also noticed he refused to play chess with kids, but I figured he's like many adult chess players who fear the humiliation of being beaten at the game by a child. 

What Anthony was really doing was self-monitoring in a system where he says he was released from a correctional facility without a housing plan, instantly compromising his ability to maintain contact and remain "trackable." 

An online search of the Virginia Registered Sex Offenders database showed half a dozen registered sex offenders in Norfolk listed as both "homeless" and "untrackable" due to a lack of fixed residence, phone or reliable Internet access from which to check in with authorities. 
Now that I know his restrictions, Anthony will interact only with adults during chess events. 

"I made a terrible, unforgivable mistake by downloading that junk to my computer," Anthony said. "I knew it was wrong, and I did it anyway.

"I really don't think most men know what can happen by downloading something like that. They don't know you lose everything in your life. It's like a death sentence." 

When Anthony told me he was homeless but that he didn't stay in shelters, he didn't explain why.

"A man gave me a small tent awhile back, and that saved my life," was all he said. 

Last weekend I found out that his tent had been stolen while he was getting a meal at a church soup kitchen.

A friend of mine donated a one-man tent for Anthony. 

For three days after getting the tent, I searched every feeding program and shelter I knew about. No Anthony.

On Wednesday evening I saw him riding his bike down my street. I have never seen him in the neighborhood before. 

I chased after him, calling his name. 

"Were you looking for me?" I asked as he stared at me like I was a ghost. 

He wasn't looking for me, but rather had decided, for nostalgia's sake, to bike to the house where he grew up. Turns out it was the house next to mine. 

So I handed him his new portable home. 

"This is a miracle," he said. 

I told him it was just a tent. 

"It's not the tent," Anthony said. "It's that God led me to you every time. Maybe that means he will forgive me. If I keep doing right, I can come back from this someday." 

I think if we all start "doing right," Anthony and others like him can find options that are safer for the homeless and the communities in which they live.