John Calandra spends his hours in a shed-sized room in St. Petersburg.
Wipes, hospital dressing gowns and diapers are stocked haphazardly along narrow wooden shelves.
Calandra’s feet, propped up on a large camel-colored reclining chair where he lies, are cracked and yellow. The recliner engulfs the cramped room, its edges almost touching the walls.
A fly flits greedily about his motionless body.
“I’m probably going to die here in my house,” he said.
Calandra, 75, had a stroke in 2013 that left him partially paralyzed. But unlike many older adults who need help with daily living, he’s unlikely to enter a nursing home.
“Nobody wants me,” he said.
Calandra is a convicted sex offender, having spent time in federal prison for possession of child pornography. He’s part of a growing community of elderly ex-prisoners who want to be in nursing homes where they can get the care they need. But the nursing homes don’t want them.
Roughly a third of all registered sex offenders in Pinellas County are 55 or older, according to Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office data. Many have spent decades behind bars and are reentering society as older adults.
When their health deteriorates, these seniors often are barred from accessing housing that can meet their medical needs, even as research suggests their risk of reoffending declines. Nursing homes that provide this care have to make tough calls, weighing liability risks and the safety of other residents who may be vulnerable to abuse due to their own medical conditions.
As a result, hundreds of older adults in Tampa Bay who have served their sentences rely on an ad hoc network of care from roommates, friends or landlords — if they’re lucky.
“It’s a huge gap in the system,” said Michael Jalazo, executive director of People Empowering and Restoring Communities, which provides limited housing to sex offenders at a Clearwater motel. “They’ve done their time and they need a place to go. Would you prefer them to live under a bridge? Because I can guarantee that’s not safer for the community.”
The phone rings every day at the St. Petersburg home of Jim Broderick, who previously oversaw a program that provided housing and therapy for sex offenders in Pinellas County. By dinnertime, more than 20 calls come in from sex offenders looking for a place to stay, from area codes across Florida and neighboring states.
Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines
Subscribe to our free DayStarter newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
People who have served time for a sex offense often struggle to find a landlord who will accept their application. Many sex offenders may not live within 1,000 feet of a school, child care center or other places where children gather.
Across the region, Pinellas County is known as a hub for apartments and motels that are willing to rent to sex offenders, who must register their home addresses on a state sex offender registry for the rest of their lives. But availability is still scant, Broderick said.
On a recent Monday, five calls were from seniors asking for help finding a nursing home.
“It’s a medical crisis,” said Broderick, who is himself a convicted sex offender, having attempted to solicit sex online from a police officer pretending to be a minor. “These guys need nursing care, and facilities won’t take them.”
Most nursing homes are private businesses, so they can choose to deny housing to a person due to their criminal history.
“We care for a very vulnerable population and our facilities are the residents’ homes,” said Kristen Knapp, spokesperson for the Florida Health Care Association, in an emailed statement. “So we want to ensure their safety while also recognizing residents’ rights and their quality of life.”
The association represents over 80% of Florida’s nursing home industry.
Kathleen Kempke said her thoughts turn to nursing home residents who are vulnerable to assault because they have cognitive or physical disabilities. She’s the director of the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay’s Corbett Trauma Center, which provides immediate support to survivors of sexual violence.
“As someone who has a mother who’s 87 years old,” Kempke said, “it would make me very concerned if she was in a facility that had somebody within that population that could take advantage of her that way.”
She acknowledged that people who commit sexual offenses in long-term care facilities are typically caretakers or staff, not other residents. But concerns remain.
“I want to be compassionate for fellow human beings that have done the work and have not reoffended,” Kempke said. “On the other hand, I know that offenders are rarely caught, and hope I can really trust that they haven’t.”
Elizabeth Jeglic has a parent who lives in a long-term care facility. She’s also a professor of psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York who has focused her research on sexual violence prevention.
“There’s the emotional side of this, and then there’s the data and the logical side, and you have to reconcile them,” she said. “It’s not easy.”
“And at 60 and above, we’re seeing very, very low rates,” she said.
The risk of a person committing another sexual offense seems to drop after age 50, according to a 2021 United Kingdom literature review of 100 studies on older offenders. The results applied across cultures, the review found, analyzing research from 12 countries.
One 2011 study, which looked at data from over 8,000 sexual offenders, found that those over 50 had a sexual recidivism rate of about 6% in the first five years after release. The recidivism rate dropped to 3% for people 60 and older, the study found. Jeglic noted that sample sizes for this age range are often very small, however.
A 2018 study found that 10 to 15 years following release from prison, most people with a history of sexual offenses are no more likely to commit a sexual offense than people with a criminal history that does not include sex offenses.
The risk further diminishes when someone requires a nursing home, Jeglic added.
“Folks who need a long-term care facility either have physical or cognitive impairments,” Jeglic said. “From a humanitarian perspective, they’re still human beings. If somebody has a stroke, if somebody has dementia, they do require care.”
But Kempke, the trauma center director, warned against assuming that advanced age makes someone low risk.
“A lot of it has to do with what kind of treatment they’ve had,” she said.
A patchwork group of landlords who rent to sex offenders in Pinellas County has worked to fill in the gaps.
“We have two older gentlemen specifically who I think are going to end up dying here,” said Michelle Hansen, housing director at People Empowering and Restoring Communities, noting they work to bring in wraparound services such as Meals on Wheels and aides to help them stay clean. “We’ve gotten very creative, but we’re social workers, not nurses.
“That’s not to make light of their convictions,” Hansen added. “But one can barely see. He can barely walk. His risk to offend right now is like nonexistent — I get it, but it’s a shame because there’s nowhere to go to receive the care.”
Often, other sex offenders become caregivers.
At the Continental Inn in Clearwater, a neighbor does laundry for Charles Morgan, 75, who uses a wheelchair after having his leg amputated several years ago. The same man helps Morgan’s roommate, who is also a senior, with grocery shopping.
Several older adult residents at Continental have been on the waitlist for home care services through the county’s area agency on aging for a year and a half, according to Hansen.
Last year, across town at an apartment complex on Harn Boulevard, Mike Allis, 59, watched his friend and roommate Francis Forte take his last breath.
“A hospice nurse came in and brought his medication, but I had to feed him, to give him water, fluids,” Allis said. “I was up all hours of the night to make sure he had his morphine for pain. He died in a lot of pain.”
Because of Forte’s prior conviction for molesting a child under the age of 12, Allis doesn’t believe the 74-year-old could have gotten into a hospice setting.
“A lot of people think that because you’re a sex offender, we’re dirt, we can never change, and that’s not true,” said Allis, who was convicted of sexually assaulting a minor and said he is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.
“I did what I did, and I’m not happy about it. It’s something I have to live with every day,” he said. “I went through extensive therapy for eight years to get there — people can change.”
He added that Forte didn’t want to go to a nursing home, fearing he would not be treated well.
“He was afraid they were just going to lock him in a room and that was going to be the end of it,” Allis said.
The aging former offender population is skyrocketing, according to Jeglic, the New York psychology professor.
“This is increasingly going to be an issue,” she said. “We have to deal with it, to save everybody a lot of heartache and taxpayer dollars — because to have them in and out of the emergency room is much more expensive than developing facilities that are suited to their needs.”
Jalazo said his organization, People Empowering and Restoring Communities, hopes to open a long-term care facility specifically for aging ex-offenders, including those who have been convicted of sex offenses.
But funding remains a constant challenge.
“Who in the Legislature would sponsor a proviso to give sex offenders above a certain age housing?” Jalazo asked. “But there are limits to who we can accept at the motel. They’re human beings. How do you knowingly put someone on the streets who without treatment is going to die?”
Calandra, the 75-year-old offender who suffered a stroke, receives a home health aide through Medicaid — but he still relies on his roommate to clean and feed him during many hours of the day.
“He’s helped me so much,” Calandra said through tears. “Whatever I need, you know?”
But he knows he may progress to the point where he needs more.
“I started getting bad a few weeks ago,” Calandra said. “I’m hoarse, I have no appetite at all. I’m worried I’m very sick.”
A few months ago, he reached out to an area nursing home that was rumored to admit people with felony records. The facility, located in St. Petersburg, had recently changed names amid a slew of safety violations, negative reviews and a one-star rating from the federal government, according to state and federal health records.
“Even they wouldn’t take me,” Calandra said.