Tammy Simmons-Morse says she was shocked and appalled when she learned recently that five registered sex offenders are living next door in her Haymount neighborhood.
The offenders live in an unassuming three-bedroom home on
Carolina Avenue. It's a two-block street with tall trees off West Rowan Street, where some historic homes fetch up to $200,000. Bragg Boulevard runs behind Carolina Avenue.
City inspectors say the house complies with the zoning law, which permits up to five people per house who are not related by marriage or blood. And a spokeswoman for the Sheriff's Office, which is responsible for monitoring sex offenders after prison, says deputies have investigated and found no violations.
While sex offenders can be found in almost every neighborhood in the city, it's unusual to have so many under one roof.
A state registry on the Internet allows anyone to know if sex offenders live nearby. A total of 28 sex offenders live within one mile of
Simmons-Morse said she is on a crusade to shut down the halfway house, which she considers to be putting children in the neighborhood at risk.
"We realize if it could happen here, it could happen anywhere," she said.
Simmons-Morse is passing out pamphlets, titled "Not all Pedophiles Drive a White Van," with safety tips, and she has formed a Facebook page called "Communities Against Pedophiles," which had 217 supporters as of Friday afternoon.
She is urging the Fayetteville City Council to adopt new restrictions on where sex offenders can live after they are released from prison.
On Friday, Mayor Tony Chavonne said city officials are researching their legal options about possible zoning changes after neighbors brought the issue to their attention a week ago.
"I think I can say the council shares their concerns about the situation," Chavonne said.
Chris Dempster, a
psychologist who counsels sex offenders, said he opened the house a year ago to give his clients a place to stay while they look for work. The clients pay him whatever they can in rent. He said the house is an extension of their counseling treatment, which they receive in his downtown office. Fayetteville
"The guys I put in the home are low risk and remorseful for what they have done," Dempster said. "We are trying to rehabilitate people."
He said many sex offenders are homeless and have lost everything. He said sex offenders are ostracized, and many counselors don't want to see them.
"I really see myself as a community guardian for sexual offenders," Dempster said. "I always wanted to have my own homeless shelter."
Dempster said the neighborhood concerns are based on misperceptions. Not all sex offenders are pedophiles, he said. Probation officers visit the homes of sex offenders every week, and the offenders get group and individual counseling. He said they would be tossed from the home if they weren't progressing in their treatment. He said there has never been an arrest or violation in the home since he started it.
Dempster is president of Integrated Behavioral Healthcare Services, which has a contract with the N.C. Division of Community Corrections in
to treat sex offenders. His company is renting the house on Cumberland County Carolina Avenue from Billy Cain, owner of Cain Electric Co.
Cain declined to comment.
The home is in Councilwoman Kady-Ann Davy's district.
"I find the problem disturbing, and we are working aggressively to take every action within the limits of the law to find a solution," she said in an e-mail Friday.
Starting July 1, a new zoning ordinance will require new licensed halfway homes to be at least a half mile from one another. A halfway home includes adults released from prison for supervision, rehabilitation and counseling, according to the local ordinance.
Simmons-Morse said her son is grown, but she decided to get involved anyway.
"It's everybody's problem," she said. "It's our responsibility to look after the well-being of others in our community."
Staff writer Andrew Barksdale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org 486-3565.