John Brooks Recovery Center may relocate the majority of its outpatient medical services, including methadone distribution, from the Atlantic City Tourism District to a shopping plaza off the Black Horse Pike in Pleasantville.
Meanwhile, officials say plans are progressing to relocate the addiction treatment facility’s inpatient component to the Hamilton Business Park in Hamilton Township.
Officials have sought for years to relocate social services away from Atlantic City’s casinos. The center, in operation since 1969, is located off Pacific Avenue between Bally’s Atlantic City and Resorts Casino Hotel.
Creation of a single point of entry system for the city’s homeless population has effectively mooted proposals to relocate the Atlantic City Rescue Mission for now, officials say. Plans for Sister Jean’s Kitchen, however, remain unclear.
Mayor Don Guardian said current plans call for the Brooks center to maintain a presence in Atlantic City in order to treat an estimated 300 residents who take part in the methadone program. But two municipalities — Somers Point is home to a smaller clinic — should not have to shoulder the mathadone needs for the region, he said.
“The middle of the Tourism District is not a good location for a methadone clinic,” he said. “Certainly, this is fair and equitable for the whole county.”
The Brooks center’s two proposed mainland locations and reduced presence in the city would help alleviate pressure on Atlantic City, Guardian said.
Methadone is used to treat addiction by safely weaning users off narcotics such as heroin. Drug overdoses have steadily increased across the region in recent years, with the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office reporting 83 overdose deaths last year.
Alan Oberman, Brooks’ executive director, confirmed that the Pleasantville facility will go before that city’s Planning Board next month, saying the primary issue is parking. He declined further comment.
According to a public notice distributed to neighbors within 200 feet of the Pleasantville Shopping Center this week, the facility would offer services including “medical care, counseling, treatment and the dispensing of prescription medicines, including without limitation, methadone and similar medicines.” The property is owned by Apple Farm LLC.
An outpatient medical office facility is considered a permitted use in the the area’s zoning, the letter reads. Public comment will be taken at the board’s March 4 meeting.
“This is something we’ve been talking about for years, and we’re finally getting it done,” said Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson. “Having that facility in the middle of the Tourism District is counter-productive.”
Levinson said the Pleasantville site is ideal because of its location in a commercial area along an existing bus route. However, he said, the relocation is still in negotiation and has not been finalized.
Both Guardian and Levinson said the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority has agreed to help pay for the relocation costs.
CRDA spokeswoman Kim Butler said the authority has worked on the issue for some time, but was not prepared to discuss details.
According to the public notice, the proposed John Brooks facility would be about 20,000 square feet, the same area that had been proposed for an Egg Harbor Township location in 2012 that failed to come to fruition.
In a 2012, Oberman said the Hamilton site would call for a residential treatment facility of between 30,000 and 40,000 square feet. At the time, the Brooks center had already put down a $25,000 deposit to secure a 5.3-acre lot in the park. No firm cost for that facility has been determined. According to the Brooks center’s website, it currently houses 111 clients at facilities inside the Tourism District.
Levinson said the Rescue Mission will not be relocated, nor should it be. The implementation of a “single point of entry,” in which those in need of social services are processed at the Atlantic County Office Building, has meant less strain on resources, he said.
“I’d like to see the mission remain in Atlantic City,” he said. “It’s under control at the present time with a cooperative board and (President) Dan Brown.”
Now that the city has a more supportive mayor, Levinson said, he’s hopeful something can be done about Sister Jean's Kitchen, which currently operates out of Victory First Presbyterian Deliverance Church on Pacific Avenue.
The Rev. John Scotland, who runs Sister Jean's Kitchen, said he’s largely been left out of relocation discussions in the last year. The last communication on the matter came from the Governor’s Office about six months ago, he said.
“We’ll stay there as long as we can,” he said. “We are looking for a place to relocate.”
Several previous proposals have not come to fruition, Scotland said. The most recent one was for the kitchen to take over food service at the Rescue Mission, he said, but the kitchen does not want to “get lost in the midst of that.”
“We think homeless people need an additional service and shouldn’t depend all on one location,” he said. “We’re not bureaucratic; we’re not going to ask people for their name, Social Security number or circumstances.”
And the Governor’s Office agreed with that philosophy in their last exchange, Scotland said.
Guardian said the kitchen is not in a good location due to repair costs for the building and the absence of a convenient place for clients to wait for meals. But Guardian cautioned against looking down on such a service.
“No one has the right to be upset with a soup kitchen,” he said. “These are people who are hungry and, financially, need a place to eat.”
The previous sites considered for the kitchen, one off Virginia Avenue and another at a former casino dealers’ school near the Rescue Mission, both fell through due to their proximity to residential neighborhoods, Guardian said. Once a suitable location is found, he said, the relocation process can begin again.
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