Everyone needs a place to live. For hundreds of sex offenders, their place to live is on the street. They are homeless and wander the streets looking for a place to sleep at night. The must register every week until they find a place to live that has an address they can register.
Most sex offenders, however, have found some place to live other than on the street. For some, it is with family or friends. Others live in run-down apartments or rooms because they cannot find anyplace else that will rent to them. More fortunate ones have found a decent place to live.
Finding a place to live can be one of the biggest challenges faced by people on the registry. Not only do they have to deal with the usual hassles of moving, they have to worry about parks, daycares, registering, and finding someone who is willing to rent to an individual who is on the registry.
And the sad reality is that finding a place is only the beginning. RSOs constantly worry about being forced to move because a landlord finds out, or a daycare opens up in someone's house down the street, or because some new law is passed further restricting where they can live. These are very real concerns that weigh heavy on RSOs all across the state.
Finding a place to live is closely tied to finding a job. Who can afford to rent or buy a house if they can't find a job? It is a difficult challenge to be sure.
Networking While there is no single right way to go about finding a place to live, it seems many people find housing through their network, that is through people they know. Letting people you know that you are looking for an apartment or room, asking them to put a good word in for you, and maybe even asking them to introduce you to a potential landlord. Sometimes, a close friend or family member may even be willing to discuss your situation with the potential landlord in advance. Having someone else vouch for you can go a long way.
Verifying an address Once you have found a place and a landlord willing to rent to you, the next step is to make sure that it conforms to legal restrictions. In other words, if your offense was against someone under the age of 18, then you cannot live closer than 500ft from a park, daycare, school, etc. One way to check this is to use something like Google Maps. This will help you identify larger parks and schools, but it may not show you where smaller, in-home daycares are located. The best way to verify that you will be able to live in a particular house or apartment is to contact the local police apartment or sheriff’s office. After all, they are the ones who will ultimately determine if you will be allowed to live there. Not all police or sheriff’s office will be friendly or cooperative, so be prepared to be polite regardless of how they respond to you. Let them know you’ve found a place you would like to rent/buy, but you need to verify that the location is acceptable based on its location. Unfortunately, I’ve heard of instances where the police department is simply unwilling to provide that information until AFTER you move in and attempt to register. In this case, you could try calling the Illinois State Police and ask them to verify the address.
What will the neighbors think? Now that you’ve found a place and got it approved, you’re ready to move in. As the reality sets in, it is quite common to begin to wonder about the neighbors. Will they harass you? Will they accept you? Will they march in front of your home with picket signs and bullhorns, demanding that you move out? Do you have to worry about vigilantes lurking around each corner waiting for you to come home?
These thoughts may seem kind of paranoid, but I’ve talked to many registrants who express such fears. I have also found, however, that the vast majority of the time, these fears are unfounded. People imagine the worse, but the worse rarely happens. Unless you live in a very small town, it seems most people are just too busy or too uninterested to pay much attention to their neighbors. Studies have shown that most people do not check the registry.
I moved into my apartment over six months ago, filled with the same worries that others have had. But as of today, no one has ever said anything to me, no one has picketed my house, no neighbors have called for me to move. Perhaps I’m lucky, but I’ve heard this same thing from most of the people I’ve spoken with.
Of course, there are those few examples of RSOs having trouble with their neighbors, and is those stories that make the rest of us, well, a bit paranoid. It’s sad that some people experience negative reactions from their neighbors, but it does occasionally happen.