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Homeless sex offenders ordered out of woods

Nine homeless sex offenders directed to live in the woods behind a suburban Atlanta office park are ordered to move and are scrambling to find new places to go.
Image: sex offender living in a tent camp
William Hawkins leans on a tree next to his tent in an encampment of sex offenders in a wooded area of Marietta, Ga. Nine people on the sex offender registry have lived in the camp, saying Georgia's strict sex offender law has left them few options.  Greg Bluestein / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Georgia probation officers tried to line up temporary housing on Tuesday for nine homeless sex offenders who were kicked out of a makeshift tent city behind a suburban Atlanta office park where state officials had directed them to live.

State officials ordered the offenders to leave Monday night after The Associated Press reported details of the unique arrangement, said Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren. Many met with their probation officers Tuesday and were told that authorities were trying to find them hotels, shelters or other temporary places to live.

"I feel like I'm living on a roller coaster. It's like up and down, up and down," said Marque Miechurski, a 30-year-old convicted of child molestation who said Tuesday he found a temporary place to live.

"You know, I just want to go back to a sense of normalcy, to having a place to live and having a place to work. You know, that's all I want — I just want the basics."

Looking for ‘suitable housing’
Officers informed offenders of the camp as a "last resort" for people who could not find places that complied with Georgia's strict restrictions on sex offenders, said Ahmed Holt, manager of the state's sex offender administration unit.

Corrections spokeswoman Sharmelle Brooks said officers are working to help the offenders find "suitable housing." She said authorities are going "to great lengths to find approved locations, including lodges and faith-based facilities," but the few options that meet guidelines often cost more than the homeless can afford.

One of the men, William Hawkins, 34, said probation officials informed him of a hotel in Cherokee County that complies with the law, although he's uncertain how long he can afford to stay there.

He said his probation officer also told him they were filing emergency paperwork to transfer his probation to Virginia, where his wife lives. It's not clear how long that will take or what the conditions of his probation will be in Virginia, he said.

"This may help me in the long run, which is what I'm hoping," he said, adding that he hopes his situation makes the public more aware "that not everybody should be under these conditions."

State’s strict rules
The encampment is an unintended consequence of a Georgia law that bans the state's 16,000 sex offenders from living, working or loitering within 1,000 feet of schools, churches, parks and other spots where children gather.

Warren said more than 300 other sex offenders in Cobb County have found places to live that comply with state law. But for those who can't afford their own housing or bunk with relatives, homeless shelters and halfway houses are often not an option because offenders can't be near children.

Hawkins, who was in prison for violating probation by failing to register as a sex offender in Georgia, and others had tried to make the muddy camp relatively comfortable. They cooked food on a donated grill, took showers under a bag of water they filled up at the office park, and were storing away wood for the coming winter.

Hawkins' wife, Mindy, said the thought of her husband living in the woods has been a constant concern. She said she hopes he will be allowed to move to Virginia so her husband can finish out his probation with her in their home.

"He's constantly in my mind. I always wonder where he's going to get his next meal, where he's going to shower," she said. "I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy."