Sex Offender Sanctuary under a Fresno Bridge

October 27, 2009 9:02:42 AM PDT
You may have passed them on the streets and never even knew they were there. Sixty sex offenders -- making their way through the system and living together in a camp. It's on Topeka Street, off Ventura in Downtown Fresno ... just blocks from the Convention Center.There are few places sex offenders can live legally. And over the last three months, this encampment has become a place of refuge. Action News started asking questions, and now the city is working to shut it down.

Along the train tracks in Downtown Fresno this is not your average homeless camp. Ankle monitors are common and parole agents pull up randomly just to check up. Some tents are even labeled to make the spontaneous visits easier. Most of the people who live here are registered sex offenders. Residents say their presence is no secret, they are monitored constantly and not only by law enforcement.

"The city's been by. They've been around taking a look. Really haven't said anything."

One sex offender we spoke with didn't want to show his face. He's lived here since August, when state funding for housing many sex offenders ended. That's when tents started popping up by the dozens.

Another man we spoke with is one of the few who is not on probation or parole. He likes living here because it's generally quiet and residents who are monitored are required to be drug and alcohol free and tested weekly.

Miguel Lazaro said, "Most of the time I do tend to mind my own business except for the few people that I do know here other than that most of the time, I do feel pretty safe."

Police Chief Jerry Dyer, asked to speak on behalf of the city of Fresno, says he's received few, if any, calls for service the past several months at this encampment. Perception may be the biggest problem.

"We're there on a daily basis, they are on GPS, and the difficulty is their mere presence there does create a certain amount of fear," said Chief Dyer.

While some accuse state parole agents of recommending sex offenders camp here, Dyer admits, there are few places for them to live.

Chief Dyer said, "That's the million dollar question is where do these individuals go? Unfortunately the more you move them, the more opportunity they have to reoffend."

Many of these sex offenders say they'd like to live elsewhere, but since Jessica's Law went into effect, it prevents them from living within two-thousand feet from any school, park or place where children frequent.

Some sex offenders themselves say they know people will fear them. They have not been looking forward to the day the public finds out they are living close, congregated, and blending in ... in plain sight.

"The public does have a right to what's going on around them. Who is living next door they have a right to know that, of course they do. But do I have to suffer for the rest of my life for it and live under a bridge?"

The police chief says he has gotten at least one complaint from a business owner who caught wind of his neighbors and was not happy.

Many of these sex offenders told me they had previously been living along Motel Drive and in halfway houses until those huge budget cuts left them homeless.



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