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1.10.09



-- A small group of homeless sex offenders have set up camp in densely wooded area behind a suburban Atlanta office park,
       
directed there by probation officers who say it's a place of last resort for those with nowhere else to go.

The nine sex offenders live in tents surrounding a makeshift fire pit in the trees behind a towering "no trespassing" sign, waiting out their probation sentences as they face numerous living restrictions under one of the nation's toughest sex offender policies.

"It's kind of like a mind-game, it's like 'Survivor,'" said William Hawkins, a 34-year-old who said he was directed to the campsite two weeks ago after being released from prison for violating probation for failing to register as a sex offender in Georgia.

The muddy camp on the outskirts of prosperous Cobb County is an unintended consequence of Georgia's sex offender law, which bans the state's 16,000 sex offenders from living, working or loitering within 1,000 feet of schools, churches, parks and other spots where children gather.

It's not the only place in Cobb County where offenders can live — there are hundreds of other sex offenders throughout the county living in compliance with the law. But Ahmed Holt, manager of the state's sex offender administration unit, calls the camp a "last resort" for homeless offenders who can't find another place to live that complies with the law.

He said probation officers direct them to the outpost if other options fail, such as transferring to another county or state or sending them to a relative's place that meets the requirements. Critics say it's an example of how laws designed to keep Georgia's children out of harm's way create a hazard where penniless sex offenders live largely unsupervised at the government's urging.

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