The Ocean County Department of Social Services may have to find a new place to send the homeless instead of the Atlantic City Rescue Mission.
Last week, the Rescue Mission informed the county Department of Social Services that they will no longer accept homeless people from Ocean County, county Administrator Carl Block said Thursday.
“Why is Ocean County being singled out? The homeless problem is not an Ocean County problem, it’s a statewide problem and it’s a national problem,” Block said.
Last year, the Rescue Mission filed a lawsuit against the Ocean County Board of Social Services alleging an overage of homeless people being sent south.
In an agreement with the county, the Rescue Mission received a donation each year to provide services to Ocean County homeless sent to Atlantic City. The lawsuit alleges that the Rescue Mission has spent more than $2 million in six years to provide services, while the county only donated $105,000.
Last week, an employee from the county Department of Social Services called the Rescue Mission to place a homeless person and they were told the mission was no longer accepting anyone from Ocean County, Block said.
“In the last year they’ve sued us, and this has somewhat turned adversarial and the lawsuit has turned things that way. It’s making us look like we do nothing for the homeless here and we do. We’re spending millions every year,” Block said.
Earlier this year, Ocean County sent a purchase order form for a $17,000 donation to the mission and it was never accepted, Block said. For the past several years, the county has provided the mission with a donation to help with service costs.
Bill Southrey, president of the Rescue Mission, said the mission has accepted the donation, but it has not been processed.
As far as homeless from Ocean County coming to the mission, Southrey said that in the past no one was turned away but pressure has mounted from outside entities who do not want the homeless in Atlantic City.
“I’ve been having the ‘just say no’ kind of discussion. I have the casinos, business and governmental entities who don’t want homeless in the city. I have an edict from the governor,” Southrey said.
Over a five-day period last week, the mission stopped accepting people from outside Atlantic City and Atlantic County, but that has since been lifted, he said.
The mission has been telling counties for some time to develop their own resources and stop sending people to Atlantic City because the facility is beyond capacity and many times the counties don’t look any further than the mission, he said.
“We will consider taking people in if they have the right referral, but there is no guarantee,” he said.
“My approach to how we do work is to serve everyone. But at this point, I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place. The hardest thing for me to do is to turn someone away,” he said.
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