By Shoshana Walter
A tent city in Auburndale was shut down, and some sex offenders living there face another move because of county rules.
AUBURNDALE - A group of sexual predators uprooted Thursday from an Auburndale tent city have moved to a nearby mobile home park, but they must move out by Wednesday or face arrest.
Park owner Lori Crump, who has allowed the group temporary residence there, criticizes the county ordinance requiring the men to move, saying it has increased the number of homeless sexual predators.
The ordinance, passed in 2006, imposed more restrictions on sex offenders and predators. As a result, residences that are less than 1,000 feet from school bus stops and churches, including Tropical Moon mobile home park, are off limits to predators.
Supporters have said the ordinance is for the protection of the public, but critics say that it's had the opposite effect, actually increasing the likelihood of further offenses.
On Thursday, officials shut down a tent city in a private orange grove off Reynolds Road, and sent the offenders and predators living there packing.
Seven of the 18 homeless went to Tropical Moon, which is less than 300 feet from a school bus stop. Many sex offenders already live, lawfully, in the park. But a few of the seven homeless are classified sexual predators, making their presence a violation of county rules and a problem for law enforcement.
Polk County Sheriff (Contact) Grady Judd says they have until Wednesday to move. If they don't, he said Saturday, they will be arrested.
Crump, a former Florida Department of Corrections (Contact) probation officer who worked with sex offenders, opened the park two years ago because she saw a need for sex offender housing.
She and others say the county needs a better solution.
With 7,000 bus stops across the county, critics say the ordinance has made it difficult for offenders to find places to live. And a transient lifestyle increases the chances an offender will reoffend.
"Law enforcement does a pretty good job of monitoring, but it's not the Department of Corrections' job to find them a home," Crump said.
Florida law defines predators as repeat sexual offenders, sexual offenders who have used physical violence, or offenders who've victimized children.
"That is not the kind of individual I want living under bridges and under roads," Crump said.
She says she does not know where the group staying in her park temporarily is going to go, but chances are high they'll soon rejoin the ranks of the 59 sex offenders currently listed on a state registry as homeless in Polk County.
Judd says there's no reason they can't follow the law.
"Predators and offenders live all over the county. I don't want to listen to their whining. They're felons. They're either going to comply, or they're going to find a place to live in the Polk County Jail."
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