By Don Thompson The Associated Press SACRAMENTO – Hundreds of California sex offenders who face tough new restrictions on where they can live are declaring themselves homeless, making it difficult for the state to track them. Jessica’s Law, approved by AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREGame Center: Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, 10 a.m.70 percent of California voters a year ago, bars registered sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park where children gather. That leaves few places where offenders can live legally. Some who have had trouble finding a place to live are avoiding re-arrest by reporting that they are homeless – falsely, in some cases. Experts say it is hard to monitor sex offenders when they lie about their address or are living day-to-day in cheap hotels, homeless shelters or on the street. It also means they may not be getting the treatment they need. “We could potentially be making the world more dangerous rather than less dangerous,” said therapist Gerry Blasingame, past chairman of the California Coalition on Sexual Offending. Similar laws in Florida and Iowa have driven offenders underground or onto the streets. Sixteen homeless offenders are now living under a Miami bridge, while another took to sleeping on a bench outside a probation office. In Iowa, the state prosecutors’ association tried unsuccessfully in the past two years to persuade lawmakers to repeal the state’s residency restriction. “Most legislators know in their hearts that the law is no good and a waste of time, but they’re afraid of the politics of it,” said Corwin Ritchie, the association’s executive director. Twenty-two states have distance restrictions varying from 500 feet to 2,000 feet, according to California researchers. But most impose the offender-free zones only around schools, and several apply only to child molesters, not all sex offenders. California’s law requires parolees to live in the county of their last legal residence. But in San Francisco, for example, all homes are within 2,000 feet of a school or park. “The state is requiring parolees to find eligible housing in San Francisco, knowing full well there isn’t any,” said Mike Jimenez, president of the California parole officers union. “It will be impossible for parole agents to enforce Jessica’s Law in certain areas, and encouraging `transient’ living arrangements just allows sex offenders to avoid it altogether.” State figures show a 27 percent increase in homelessness among California’s 67,000 registered sex offenders since the law took effect in November 2006. Since August, the number of offenders with no permanent address rose by 560 to 2,622. “This is a huge surge,” said Deputy Attorney General Janet Neeley, whose office maintains the database. “Any law enforcement officer would tell you we would prefer to have offenders at addresses where we can locate them.” Offenders who declare themselves homeless must tell their parole officer each day where they spent the previous night. Those who declare themselves homeless are still legally bound by the 2,000-foot rule; they cannot stay under a bridge near where children gather, for example. But it is more difficult for parole officers to keep tabs on them. Parole officers said some offenders are registering as homeless, then sneaking back to homes that violate the law. That’s easy to do because fewer than 30 percent of transient offenders currently wear the Global Positioning System tracking devices required by Jessica’s Law. “If they tell you that they were under the American River bridge, we’re going to take that at face value,” said Corrections Department spokesman Bill Sessa, referring to a homeless hangout in Sacramento. R.L., a 42-year-old sex offender who lives near Disneyland, said he registered as homeless after his parole agent told him two potential homes were too close to schools or parks. “I finally asked, `Where do you want me to live?’ He said, `You have a car, don’t you?”‘ said R.L., who asked that his full name not be used because of the stigma of being a sex offender. Recent parolees such as R.L. appear to be driving the trend. Of the 3,311 sex offenders paroled since last November, 552 – or nearly 17 percent – were registered as having no permanent address on Oct. 21 of this year. The majority of those declared themselves transient this month, when the corrections department began arresting violators. Just 81 were listed as homeless before the department made its first Jessica’s Law sweeps in early October. Enforcement of the law had been delayed by a series of court challenges. Before sending officers out to make the arrests, the department issued a policy stating offenders could “declare themselves transient” on the spot as an alternative to being arrested for living too close to areas where children congregate. The law was named for 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford, who was kidnapped, raped and buried alive by a convicted sex offender near her Florida home in 2005. “This is not what the people of California voted for,” her father, Mark Lunsford, said. “If there’s a loophole, then we must fix it because our children’s lives are at stake.” In addition, the state attorney general says the law includes no criminal penalties for offenders who live near schools and parks once they are off parole. So for now, most are not being tracked at all. “As they’re discharging (from parole) they’re moving anywhere they want. We know that as a fact,” supervising parole agent Guillermo Viera Rosa said while checking on parolees’ whereabouts in the Oakland area last week. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s advisory commission on sex offenders is preparing a report urging state lawmakers to fix these and other loopholes in the law. The state Supreme Court is also considering whether Jessica’s Law is too vague and therefore unenforceable, and whether it unfairly punishes offenders after they have completed their prison terms. The author of Jessica’s Law, state Sen. George Runner, said “90 percent” of it is working well. He expects most offenders will find legal housing somewhere, but conceded that some portions of the law should be fixed. “When the voters voted for this, they decided that they didn’t want a child molester to live across the street from a school,” said Runner, a Republican from Lancaster. “If that means that in some areas that needs to be 1,000 feet or 1,500 feet, then I think that we still accomplish what it is the voters wanted.” 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!