Riders of the Storm: Registrants in the wake of natural disasters.

Tropical storms and hurricanes are a part of life living in coastal states. The US has been fortunate in recent years with few destructive storms making landfall, but we just endured Hurricane Harvey in Texas, while Hurricane Irma could make landfall in Florida or further up the Atlantic Coast. People are expected to make adequate preparations for these storms, but as registered citizens, we are expected to make different kinds of preparations.

In the past, SOs were forced to separate from loved ones during 2008’s Hurricane Gustav. Shelters in the process of being built for the purpose of housing SOs were destroyed by Gustav. In 2005, Sheriff David Gee (Hillsborough Co FL) warned registrants to make their own plans during a hurricane, because none would be allowed into a shelter. Texas instituted “Operation Safe Shelter” around 2008 to help ID registered persons seeking shelter, which would have presumably prevented SOs from obtaining shelter. (However, I have found no recent info on this program, and it is no longer listed on TX’s AG website.) Last year, Florida dodged a major bullet when Hurricane Matthew merely grazed the coast, sparing Miami and the homeless registrant camp from a direct hit. I remember talking on the phone for a couple of hours with one of the homeless camp residents, who rode out the storm in his van. As I recall, they were given the option to seek refuge in the local jail, but most took their chances with Matthew.

Louisiana passed a law years ago (Louisiana RS §15:543.2, still on the books) requiring registered persons to notify shelters of their registry status: “Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, during a declaration of emergency, any person who has been required to register as a sex offender as provided for in this Section who enters an emergency shelter shall, within the first twenty-four hours of admittance, notify the management of the facility, the chief of police of the municipality, if the shelter is located in a municipality, and the sheriff of the parish in which the shelter is located of their sex offender status. The sex offender shall provide his full name, date of birth, social security number, and last address of registration prior to the declaration of emergency. Within seventy-two hours of receiving the notification required by the provisions of this Paragraph, the chief of police and the sheriff shall forward that information to the Louisiana Bureau of Criminal Identification and Information… The manager or director of the emergency shelter shall make a reasonable effort to notify the chief law enforcement officer of the parish or municipality in which the shelter is located of the presence of the sex offender in the emergency shelter.”

The 2017 “Louisiana Unified Shelter Plan” states, “The RS 29.726 E (14) 9c (i) requires that registered sex offenders that seek public sheltering must be housed separate and apart from the general population. DCFS in coordination with the Department of Corrections will provide sheltering in a facility exclusively for registered sex offenders. The State of Louisiana operates one Sex Offender Shelter [p.A-7].” It states the Department of Children and Family Services maintains a separate report of “Sex Offender Shelters” (SOS) but no current reports can be found at the DCFS website. Appendix 2 of the The Caddo Parish Emergency Operations Plan from 2016 mentions that “The Sex Offender Shelter would be located in Claiborne Parish at the Wade Correctional Center in Homer with a capacity of 120.” As of May 2017, The NCMEC reports there are 9,537 registered citizens throughout the state of Louisiana. That means only 1.25% of Louisiana’s registrant population could seek shelter in 2016.

As Harvey hammered the Texas coast, I wondered how registrants would be impacted by the storm. KXAN of Austin, TX reported a screening process was in place to weed out registered persons, adding they would be placed in “appropriate shelters” without elaborating further. KSLA reported shelters open in Louisiana were also going to screen for “sex offenders.” [http://www.ksla.com/story/36242501/red-cross-opens-harvey-evacuee-shelter-in-shreveport-18-total-checked-in]. So, I asked for thoughts on the hurricane evacuation issue from members of Safer Louisiana [https://www.saferlouisiana.org].

One member told me that the last time Louisiana faced a hurricane, he was on supervision and was told to report to the local jail to receive shelter. He responded it was a “non-option” because “Louisiana has a history and it continues to today of locking people in jails and losing their paperwork and refusing to let them out,” and because he worked as an emergency respondent for an oil company. He added, “I have been told stories in the past where evacuations were ordered and every registrant in one of the parishes were immediately listed as non-compliant ‘as the police no longer had knowledge of where they were.’ I have told my family that should an evacuation be ordered I would not leave and should I die as a result to sue the s**t out of Louisiana.”

A second member wrote that she told a P.O. there was “no way in hell” she’d allow her family to be separated during a storm. “I said we would all just have to live in our car before I let them put us in separate facilities. This was met with a shrug. She genuinely acted like it never occurred to her that the “laws” regarding emergency shelter for registered people in a hurricane, could in some circumstances actually result in pulling a parent away from a child.” She mentioned there is no shelter hotline that was mandated by Louisiana RS §15:543.2.B(1). Furthermore, one reentry program was flooded, forcing those in the program to live in an office building for months without adequate cooking or shower facilities, adding, “No one in law enforcement or local government helped us or had a plan or gave two s**ts…..UNLESS they could arrest you for something, they were still VERY clear about what you couldn’t do.” She also confirmed that Louisiana is using an animal shelter as the current designated location for registrants seeing shelter, noting it is insulting to treat registrants as animals.

An agent for the Louisiana’s Office of Emergency Preparedness confirmed to the SaferLA group that there are no plans in place regarding assistance to those on the registry beyond settling them in the separate shelter.

Florida’s laws are vague, as there is not a statewide ban from shelters currently in place. Each county apparently sets their own guidelines. Calls to Miami-Dade and Broward Counties, where 40% of Florida’s homeless registrant population reside, wielded no definitive answers. In the meantime, the Florida Action Committee has set up a page to share hurricane shelter information at:

HURRICANE IRMA – INFORMATION EXCHANGE

It is important to consider your OWN contingency plan in the event of a natural disaster, be it Hurricane Irma or any other disaster. Don’t assume you’ll receive sufficient aid from the government. Hurricanes are slow enough to plan accordingly. Think about any relatives or friends farther inland with whom you can stay & not be in violation of any restrictive laws. Be sure to ask your local office if they have procedures in place to avoid any FTR charges due to disaster. (Sadly, we’re somehow expected to report changes in living arrangements even in emergency situations.) Be sure to maintain a reasonable stockpile of emergency provisions that can be taken with you in the event of a disaster- food, first aid, and other basic necessities. Remember that it is up to you, AND ONLY YOU, to prepare for any emergency.

 

Derek W. Logue, Reform Advocate
www.oncefallen.com

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