Former Felons Forced To Move From Under Bridge
Group Packs Up, Creates Camp At Edge Of Everglades
POSTED: 8:51 pm EST January 21, 2008
UPDATED: 7:31 am EST January 22, 2008
BROWARD COUNTY, Fla. -- A group of registered sex offenders and convicted felons who were told by the Department of Corrections to live under a bridge in Fort Lauderdale have been chased away by neighbors, police and the Department of Transportation.
On Friday night, police officers posted "No Trespassing" signs underneath the Oakland Park Boulevard Bridge over the intracoastal and told the former felons that if they didn't leave they'd be arrested. The group packed up their things and headed west.
They set up a camp on the edge of the Everglades, far away from schools, parks and civilization.
They have a tent, battery-operated television and DVD player, a portable cooking stove and a beat-up rusty grill.
"Hopefully nobody's going to complain about it and we can be left alone for a while," said Mark DaCosta, an ex-convict who is not a sex offender but was ordered to live by the same rules as a condition of his parole.
The Department of Corrections had the men reporting to the bridge every night because they couldn’t find a place for them to live that wasn't too close to school or park. State law prohibits sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of anyplace children congregate. The problem is that nearly every city in South Florida has its own laws that push the sex offenders and ex-convicts back even farther , Local 10's Roger reported. In most cases, the local ordinance is 2,500 feet.
"We’re just getting pushed farther and farther away from society," said Dana Oakes, a convicted sex offender whose state issued identification card lists the Oakland Park Boulevard Bridge as his permanent address.
What residents don't realize is that during the day, when children are at school or away from their homes, the offenders can go wherever they want.
Florida's registered sex offender laws only require them to be in a certain location at night. It not only leaves children unprotected, but it's made it nearly impossible for these former felons to get on with their lives, they told Local 10's Roger Lohse.
"We’re 12 to 15 miles from the nearest bus stop. I need to work, I want to work, but how am I supposed to function on a daily basis when I can't promise them I can even be there on time? There's nothing out here," said Oakes.
A state lawmaker has filed a bill that would prohibit cities and counties from passing their own residency restrictions and make the state's 1,000-foot rule the only rule registered offenders would have to follow. It would also allow probation officers to track the sex offenders and ex convicts more closely by creating a "floating restriction" that would prohibit offenders from being within 300 feet from anywhere children are 24 hours a day.
Video: Debate Over Where To Put Sex Offenders Continues
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