Sunrise was nearly an hour away as about 40 people, including Atlantic City police officers and representatives from the Atlantic City Rescue Mission, Jewish Family Services and Atlantic County, gathered on the Boardwalk near Florida Avenue for instructions.
Their job was to search beneath the boards and piers for anyone sleeping or living under the wood.
When the city began this effort more than a year ago, in spring 2011, officers and social workers found and identified nearly 30 people living under the Boardwalk.
But Thursday morning, the outreach team found 10 people: one person on the beach, two people under the Boardwalk and seven people on the Boardwalk.
Atlantic City Tourism District Commander Tom Gilbert credits that decline to the organization and partnerships that have developed in the past year as well as the number of people, including the Boardwalk Ambassadors and Special Improvement District employees, who are on the Boardwalk now daily who can help identify homeless people at risk.
“Everybody is now in play on a daily basis,” said Gilbert, who also serves on a county task force on homelessness. “Every day, there are people engaged in this effort. It’s not like we’ll wait for the sweeps to deal with it.”
Just as the sun was rising, Rescue Mission workers found a man sitting on the steps of a lifeguard station at the Michigan Avenue beach. The man was identified on previous sweeps as one of the city’s homeless and had been offered help.
On Thursday, the man explained that he had been out of work and had lost his home. He wasn’t suffering from mental health problems, he didn’t have an addiction and he wasn’t causing problems, he told a group of Rescue Mission workers and Atlantic City police Officer Bill Wenz, who works extensively with the city’s homeless population.
Wenz sat next to the man, telling him that the group was there to help him and he wasn’t “a problem.”
The man said he needed to get to the One Stop center in Pleasantville, which would provide services, including helping secure necessary documentation such as birth certificates or identification needed to get a job. One Rescue Mission worker immediately called to secure a ride at 9:30 a.m., and another Rescue Mission worker came over to give the man a ride to the mission, where he could sit with breakfast and wait.
After sunrise, just as heavy rain clouds were moving in, the man walked off the beach and into a car waiting on the Boardwalk.
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