Accommodating sex offenders
It has been freezing rain for most of the day, and Benny walks up to your desk man just in time for dinner. He is a level 2 sex offender who wants a hot meal and to spend the night, or at least stay until the weather improves. Coincidentally, tonight is the night the youth group from the First Baptist Church will be serving the meal. Problem?
I was recently asked for counsel on what risk management techniques should be implemented at a particular homeless shelter in order to protect the staff, volunteers, general resident population and the sex offender himself. This is a large question with many variables, including local laws, level of offender, duration of the stay, the layout of the shelter, the population served (gender and age), the proximity of the mission to other “sensitive” facilities (schools, daycare centers, residences, etc.), and general ministry philosophy and capabilities.
Bear in mind, there is a difference between a sex offender and a sex addict. The former may have been caught urinating in public (level 1), produced pornography that included a minor (level 2), or committed a sexual assault (level 3). If they have been released from incarceration, it does not mean they are an addict who poses a continuing threat. Additionally, they may or may not be on a registry, and may, or may not, have to tell the desk man accordingly. Roy Tullgren (Ex. Dir. of the Gospel Rescue Mission Tucson) wrote an excellent article in Rescue Magazine (April 2011) which delves into many of these nuances, and I would encourage you to obtain a copy of his article for some great experiential counsel.
From a risk management point of view, here are some steps to consider at your mission:
1. Establish your protocols, in writing.
2. Periodically review these with staff (from desk man to counselors), volunteers and general population for dealing with health-safety issues. Include matters from fire exits to choking on food, and include matters relevant in dealing with possible sex offenders on the premises.
3. Ask persons entering your shelter if they are a registered sex offender.
4. Run background checks on permanent employees, regular volunteers and long-term guest/residents who enter your “programs”.
5. Instruct your adult volunteer supervisors to warn their youth volunteers to never venture off alone.
6.Consider the layout of your building. Should you install cameras in your stairwells? Should you have floors that are accessible by special permission versus total access to the general population?
7. Remember that accommodating the one resident may jeopardize the many.