- The Washington Times - Friday, April 6, 2007

MIAMI (AP) — Five convicted sex offenders are living under a noisy highway bridge with the state’s grudging approval because an ordinance intended to keep predators away from children made it nearly impossible for them to find housing.

Some of them sleep on cardboard raised slightly off the ground to avoid the rats. One of the men beds down on a pallet with a blanket and pillow. Some have been there for several weeks.

“You just pray to God every night, so if you fall asleep for a minute or two, you know, nothing happens to you,” said Javier Diaz, 30, who arrived this week. He was sentenced in 2005 to three years’ probation for lewd and lascivious conduct involving a girl under 16.

The five men under the Julia Tuttle Causeway are the only known sex offenders authorized to live outdoors in Florida, and they are required to be there between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. because a parole officer checks on them nearly every night.

“This is not an ideal situation for anybody, but at this point we don’t have any other options,” said state Corrections Department spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger. “We’re still looking. The offenders are still actively searching for residences.”

The conditions are a consequence of laws passed here and elsewhere that prohibit sex offenders from living near schools, parks and other places children gather. Miami-Dade County’s 2005 ordinance says sex offenders must live at least 2,500 feet away from schools.

“They’ve often said that some of the laws will force people to live under a bridge,” said Charles Onley, a research associate at the federally funded Center for Sex Offender Management. “This is probably the first story that I’ve seen that confirms that.”

County Commissioner Jose Diaz said he had no qualms about the ordinance he created.

“My main concern is the victims, the children that are the innocent ones that these predators attack and ruin their lives,” Mr. Diaz said. “No one really told them to do this crime.”

But Miss Plessinger concedes it is a problem that has to be addressed.

“If we drive these offenders so far underground or we can’t supervise them because they become so transient, it’s not making us safer,” she said.

The men catch food with fishing poles, cook with small stoves, use battery-powered TVs and radios and keep their belongings in plastic bags. Javier Diaz has trouble charging the GPS tracking device he is required to wear — there are no power outlets nearby.

The whoosh of cars passing overhead echoes loudly under the causeway, which runs over Biscayne Bay, connecting Miami and Miami Beach.

About 100 feet away is the bay’s blue-green water, where families with young children play. In the near distance, luxury condominiums rise from the coastline.

Javier Diaz said he and the other men fear for their lives, especially because of “crazy people who might try to come harm sex offenders.”

The five committed such crimes as sexual battery, molestation, abuse and grand theft. Many of the offenses were against children. The state moved the men under the bridge from their previous home — a lot next to a center for sexually abused children and close to a day care center — after they were unable to find affordable housing that did not violate the sex-offender ordinance.

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