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Some sex offenders now live in woods, Oklahoma City ministry's officials say

Hand Up Ministries in Oklahoma City has removed tents housing sex offenders from its property, but some former residents now live in the woods, ministry officials say.
by Juliana Keeping Modified: August 31, 2012 at 8:31 pm •  Published: September 1, 2012

/articleid/3706012/1/pictures/1814630">Photo - Jeff Wendel, Hand Up Ministries office administrator, looks Wednesday inside one of the tents used by  men who once were residents of the ministry’s campus in Oklahoma City. Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman
Jeff Wendel, Hand Up Ministries office administrator, looks Wednesday inside one of the tents used by men who once were residents of the ministry’s campus in Oklahoma City. Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman

Inspectors issued a notice of violation July 17 that stated tents are not permitted on the property the way it is zoned, said Charles Locke, a code enforcement manager. Ministry officials also were warned to pick up trash on the property. The nonprofit had 30 days to comply or face a $500 fine.

When city inspectors returned Aug. 27, they found the tents removed, but the trash had not been cleared from the property. Now, a citation is pending, Locke said.

Living in the woods

Hand Up Ministries office administrator Jeff Wendel said some of the men who have left the trailer park are living in a tent city in the woods in south Oklahoma City.

“The law was enacted for public safety,” he said, standing in a squalid campground in the woods. “This doesn't seem like public safety.”

Oklahoma law requires those convicted of sex offenses to register as a sex offender each year with the state Corrections Department and local law enforcement. They are required to update their address with a frequency scaled to the severity of their offense. Those without an address — such as the men living in tents — have to register every week, Womack said.

It's not clear how many homeless sex offenders stay in Oklahoma City, said Dan Straughan, executive director of the Homeless Alliance.

About 1,200 registered sex offenders live in Oklahoma City, but they are banned from living in huge swathes of the city. The law prohibits sex offenders from living near schools, playgrounds, parks or child care centers.

Police Chief Bill Citty has pointed out that the roughly 1,000 registered sex offenders living outside of a Hand Up Ministries trailer park have found a place to live.

by Juliana Keeping
Enterprise Reporter
Juliana Keeping is on the enterprise reporting team for The Oklahoman and NewsOK.com. Keeping joined the staff of The Oklahoman in 2012. Prior to that time, she worked in the Chicago media at the SouthtownStar, winning a Peter Lisagor Award...
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