Two nonprofits that serve Atlantic City’s poor and homeless may soon be moving out of the Tourism District.
The John Brooks Recovery Center and Sister Jean’s Kitchen have identified new locations for their facilities. Both are working out specifics of financing with the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority and how the moves may affect their clients.
The relocations are part of a push by local and state officials to clean up the city’s streets and boost the tourism industry.
“My hope is that we’re going to come up with a solution that’s going to be better for our clients, better for our staff and better for the casino district,” said Brooks center Executive Director Alan Oberman, whose addiction center has operated in Atlantic City since 1969.
Sister Jean’s Kitchen, which started in the home of its namesake more than 25 years ago, is considering a new location inside the city but outside the CRDA-overseen Tourism District. The Brooks center has identified two locations in mainland Atlantic County to relocate the majority of its residential and outpatient programs.
Under the Brooks center plan, Oberman said, the nonprofit would also operate a smaller office and mobile methadone clinic in Atlantic City, which accounts for about 45 percent of its clients. Oberman said the project — like that of Sister Jean’s Kitchen — is gaining momentum after years of discussion with the CRDA. The center’s current facilities on Pacific and South Tennessee avenues are located in the heart of the Tourism District, between Bally’s Atlantic City and Resorts Casino Hotel.
Relocating those facilities has been the topic of ongoing discussion since 2006, Oberman said, but increased interest and political will — in addition to the CRDA’s newly completed master plan for the Tourism District — have made relocating more of a reality.
“All the forces have sort of crystallized where an agency like ours is more in the forefront,” he said.
Susan Ney Thompson, the CRDA’s deputy executive director, said the authority is working to reach an agreement on the project budget, which then must be approved by the CRDA board.
“Realistically, the earliest an approval could come would be by the end of the year,” she said in a written message.
Thompson said that “input by key stakeholders who became more engaged in the process” and Oberman’s working through an operational program to meet the center’s needs contributed to the progress made this year.
Next week, Oberman said, the nonprofit will begin surveying its clients to determine what and where services are needed. He said the pace of progress is largely set by CRDA, but he hopes to secure funding early next year.
“If dollars start to flow by spring, we could be in a new outpatient facility within a year and new residential facilities within two years,” he said.
Similar progress has been made at Sister Jean’s Kitchen, which currently operates out of Victory First Presbyterian Deliverance Church on Pacific Avenue.
“I’m encouraged by my recent conversations with the CRDA board staff,” said the Rev. John Scotland, who runs Sister Jean’s Kitchen. “They visited Sister Jean’s Kitchen and saw what we’re up against, and they’re coming back with a proposal to us.”
While he couldn’t disclose the exact location, Scotland said it won’t be the Atlantic City Rescue Mission — as was previously discussed — but would place the charity closer to the people it serves. Scotland said he expects the CRDA’s full proposal by January. The move has been discussed for about a decade.
“It’ll still be in Atlantic City, and it wouldn’t be too far from where most homeless people are let off buses and hang out,” he said.
The Brooks center has already put down about $25,000 in deposit and attorneys fees to secure a 5.3-acre lot in the Hamilton Business Park in Hamilton Township, Oberman said. The current plan calls for a new residential treatment facility of between 30,000 and 40,000 square feet there. A firm cost estimate was unavailable.
A second facility would house the Brooks center’s extensive outpatient programs — which include counseling, methadone and women’s programs — as well as the center’s administrative offices. That facility would be about 20,000 square feet and cost between $2 million and $3 million.
After speaking with Oberman earlier this year, County Executive Dennis Levinson said the county identified an underused Atlantic County Utilities Authority building in Egg Harbor Township as a prime location for the center’s outpatient program. Because it’s situated in an industrial area along Delilah Road, he said, there will be minimal disturbance to residential neighborhoods.
“It’s along a transportation line, so people can come in and get out without any disruption,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s going to happen, but it should be an option to be looked at very carefully.”
Oberman said the relocation would be largely positive, as the center also spends about $100,000 a year on repairs. “We’re band-aiding all the time,” he said. Limited space also means some clients live four to a room, and there are few opportunities for recreation beyond television and a gym.
But there are also potential downsides to the move. Because of how long the center has been in Atlantic City, Oberman said there’s a possibility it could lose clients if it moves off the island.
“That’s where we’d have to come in,” he said. “It would be our responsibility for outreach, to make sure people know what’s going on.”
The Rescue Mission, meanwhile, has engaged in “preliminary” relocation discussions with the CRDA, said former Executive Director William Southrey. He presented some of the information to the nonprofit’s board of trustees several weeks before his suspension.
With Southrey’s termination this week, the status of those discussions is now unknown. The mission’s chief operating officer, Daniel Brown, and Board Chairman Bob Stahler did not respond to requests for comment. Thompson did not address specifics about its progress.
State Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, said the Rescue Mission has a responsibility to make clear what its policy is moving forward.
“The atmosphere is, ‘What the heck is going on?’” he said Thursday. “And no one’s talking.”
Whelan said the mission went through a very public process of terminating its longtime leader and should now be engaging in discussions about what happens next.
Mayor Lorenzo Langford said he would support relocating the Brooks center if the move were mutually beneficial to both the nonprofit and the CRDA, but he expressed concerns about Sister Jean’s Kitchen.
“Certainly, while they would not want to see it anywhere in the Tourism District, I sure as hell wouldn’t want to see it anywhere in a neighborhood,” he said.
Langford also expressed concern about how the city’s poor may be treated going forward.
“This town, if it’s going to prosper, must be very careful how they treat the poor, the downtrodden, the dispossessed and the disenfranchised,” he said.
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