A well-known advocate for the homeless has been suspended from his position as executive director of the Atlantic City Rescue Mission.
Officials have not given a reason for the suspension, although some observers speculate it may have been as a result of clashes he had with other officials on the issue of homelessness in Atlantic City.
Bill Southrey, 57, of Absecon, said his suspension started sometime last week, beginning as a leave of absence before he was told he was suspended. Southrey said Wednesday he was not given a reason.
“I don’t want to go on speculation,” he said. “I’m waiting for a definitive reason.”
The mission’s board of trustees Chairman Bob Stahler confirmed the suspension but declined to go into the details.
“Out of respect for his 30-plus years with us, I’m declining comment,” said Stahler, who works as a teacher’s aide and leader of the Great Commission Baptist Church in Cape May Court House. “He was very faithful to his work.”
A replacement has not been named for Southrey. His voicemail message at the mission referred callers to Daniel Brown, the group’s chief operating officer.
Southrey has worked at the mission for 32 years in various positions, including as director of ministries.
He recently clashed with Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson on the issue of homelessness. Levinson has been working to curb the practice of out-of-county homeless residents being sent to Atlantic City. Levinson also has suggested that the mission operate a satellite office in the city and the main headquarters in another part of the county.
Southrey and Levinson locked horns earlier this year on the Harry Hurley In the Morning radio show. Levinson said Southrey and the mission ran advertisements in a Philadelphia newspaper that Levinson said would entice the homeless to come to Atlantic City. Southrey said the ad was for fundraising and not a solicitation, suggesting that Levinson was a liar.
Levinson said Wednesday he was surprised to learn of Southrey’s suspension and did not know the reason behind it.
“It saddens me that he has to go through a public humiliation. Here is a man, who for a long period of time, did extremely good work,” Levinson said. “Hopefully he will be remembered for the good things rather than the present situation.”
Pinky Kravitz, a columnist for The Press of Atlantic City and a radio host on WOND, said the decision must have been made because the board didn’t believe Southrey represented their views.
“He’s been very outspoken,” Kravitz said of Southrey, adding the homeless advocate would sometimes take an antagonistic stance. “It’s been not as conducive as one could be to work together to resolve problems.”
Kravitz said he would hope a new leader would be named to the position.
“A good decision is someone who’s more amenable to the community,” Kravitz said.
Residents who have struggled with homelessness said Southrey was passionate about his work and one of their staunchest advocates.
“He’s bent over backwards to help the plight of the homeless,” said Arthurzillo Caldwell, 52, of Atlantic City, as he and others stood outside of the mission’s shelter on Bacharach Boulevard.
Nearly everyone who has used the shelter knows of Southrey, and nearly all of the men who have used the mission’s services have met him.
“The man has something special in his heart for the homeless,” said Jimmy Pyles, 55, of Atlantic City.
Caldwell said he believed the mission would be making a mistake if they were to not reinstate Southrey.
“It will be doing the mission a disservice,” Caldwell said. “I don’t think they’ll be able to find someone as passionate and committed as he is.”
At the same time, the mission will continue to help the homeless and serve its clients, according to other observers, such as Tom Gilbert, the Tourism District commander who also serves on a county taskforce on homelessness.
“The mission is more than one person,” Gilbert said. “There are so many good people contributing right now.”
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