PROVIDENCE, R.I. — An advocacy group for the homeless is asking a federal judge to block a Rhode Island law set to go into effect Monday that limits the number of convicted sex offenders who can stay at Rhode Island homeless shelters.
In a lawsuit against the state filed Friday in U.S. District Court, lawyers representing the Rhode Island Homeless Advocacy Project and six registered sex offenders argue that the law passed in September is unconstitutional and violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The suit asks for an injunction preventing the state from enforcing the new law’s 10-percent limit on the number of shelter beds that can be given to registered sex offenders.
It focuses on people who now stay at Harrington Hall in Cranston, the state-owned shelter operated by Crossroads Rhode Island that has become a place of last resort for sex offenders whose options for housing have been limited by increasingly strict residency laws.
Displeasure among Cranston lawmakers with the number of sex offenders staying at Harrington Hall prompted the 10-percent bill.
“As a direct result of the 10 percent Restriction, many of the Plaintiffs have been or will be denied shelter at Harrington Hall and will be required to sleep or camp on the streets, even when there are beds available to accommodate them and notwithstanding the operator’s willingness to do so,” said the suit, filed by a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island. “Being forced into un-sheltered homelessness, particularly during the winter months, imposes life-threatening conditions upon the Plaintiffs.”
Harrington Hall has 111 beds, so the 10-percent cap limits it to 11 registered sex offenders staying there per night.
The suit says 49 registered sex offenders stayed at Harrington Hall on Oct. 19 and 32 offenders on Dec. 27.
It argues, among other things, that the 10-percent rule violates the 14th Amendment’s equal-protection clause and unfairly denies disabled sex offenders benefits provided by the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act and the Fair Housing Act.