SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – Hundreds of California sex offenders who face tough new restrictions on where they can live are declaring themselves homeless – truthfully or not – and that’s making it difficult for the state to track them.

Jessica’s Law, approved by 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 – falsely, in some cases – that they are homeless.

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 mak-ing the world more dangerous rather than less dangerous,” said therapist Gerry Blasingame, past chairman of the California Coalition on Sexual Offending.

Similar laws in Iowa and Florida have driven offenders underground or onto the streets.

“They drop off the registry because they don’t want to admit living in a prohibited zone,” said Corwin Ritchie, executive director of the association of Iowa prosecutors.

The organization tried unsuccessfully in the past two years to persuade lawmakers to repeal the state’s 2,000-foot 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,” Ritchie said.

The problem is worsening in Florida as about 100 local ordinances add restrictions to the state’s 1,000-foot rule, said Florida Corrections Department spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger. Sixteen homeless offenders are now living under a Miami bridge, while another took to sleeping on a bench outside a probation office.

“As society has imposed restrictions, it becomes almost impossible for them to find places to live,” Plessinger said.

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.”

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