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Jacksonville Leads State In Homeless Sex Offenders

A homesless person sleeps on a stoop in Jacksonville.
Cyd Hoskinson
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Jacksonville has the state’s highest rate of registered sex offenders or predators without a permanent address.

That’s one takeaway from a new state report on sexual offenders that also shows the number of registered sex offenders and predators living in Florida has been rising steadily for more than a decade, up 53 percent since the state first began closely auditing its sex offender registry in 2005. 

Around 29,000 registered offenders now call Florida home. The  report does not include any explanations for the rise.

In Jacksonville, Sulzbacher homeless shelter CEO Cindy Funkhouser said sex offenders are often left with nowhere to go because shelters that house women and kids won’t take them, and finding places to rent can be impossible.

So, even though Sulzbacher helped about 800 people find homes last year, “One of the barriers there again is a lot of landlords won’t take folks with felonies, and even the ones who do takes folks with felonies won’t take sexual offenders,” she said.

Funkhouser said one answer could be building a low-barrier shelter, as many communities have.

“And that would mean that you accept people who are sexual offenders, you let people into the shelter who are actively drinking or on drugs,” she said.  

Of the 10 Florida counties with the most transient sex offenders per capita, only three have any housing that explicitly welcomes registered offenders, the report notes.

The report by the Legislature’s Office of Policy Analysis and Government Accountability states, “This combination (of factors) can lead to an increase in homelessness, loss of family support, and financial hardship, which are all known to be destabilizing factors. Offenders who lack stability are more likely to reoffend.”

State auditors say other barriers include an increasingly restrictive schedule of required check-ins with local law enforcement, increased restrictions on movement and places where they’re allowed to live, and increasingly harsh punishments for not complying with these rules.

As of 2014, transient offenders have to check in every 30 days, and when they don’t, local sheriff’s offices must undertake the time-consuming task of trying to locate them, the report said.

For example, some offices reported that it’s difficult to find a transient offender’s campsite in a wooded area and can take several attempts to verify their location.

Legislative auditors noted that the state’s registry lists more than 73,000 sexual offenders and predators, but the majority of them do not live among the public in Florida. Instead, many of them live in other states or have been sent back to prison.

Auditors stated that the typical registered sex offender in Florida was a white, middle-aged male: 75 percent of those on the registry were white, followed by African-Americans at 24 percent.

The report includes a county-by-county breakdown showing that urban counties had the highest overall number of sex offenders. Orange County, which is in central Florida and home to Orlando, had the highest total with 2,299 followed by Duval County with 2,018 registered offenders.

Two smaller rural counties, Dixie and Gadsden, had the highest percentage of offenders on a per capita basis. Dixie is in north central Florida on the state’s Gulf Coast, while Gadsden is west of the state capital.

Read the full report here

Contact Jessica Palombo at 904-358-6315, or on Twitter at @JessicaPubRadio.

Copyright 2020 WJCT News 89.9. To see more, visit WJCT News 89.9.