ATLANTIC CITY — Gov. Chris Christie visited the Atlantic County Municipal Building on Tuesday to discuss the early success of the Atlantic Homeless Alliance’s Single Point of Entry program, which assists individuals and families who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
Flanked by Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson, Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian and program Director Ann Thoresen, Christie said the Atlantic Homeless Alliance is an example of government doing its job.
“The first job of government is to protect and serve the people who pay the bills,” he said. “And for those who fall on bad times, we need to be there for them especially.”
According to Thoreson, the program has served more than 750 people since it began in February and about 60 percent of those served have been between the ages of 20 and 50.
Jewish Family Service of Atlantic and Cape May Counties was awarded the contract to conduct the day-to-day operations of the single point of entry in November. Affiliated institutions include the Atlantic City Rescue Mission, Pleasantville Housing Authority and John Brooks Recovery Center. The Department of Human Services has partnered with Atlantic County, which will oversee the program’s implementation.
The program, which is based in the municipal building, serves as a liaison for the homeless population of Atlantic City and the services offered for them in town. Upon intake, the Atlantic Homeless Alliance develops a personalized support plan to address the individual or family’s specific needs. It is funded by a $2 million Hurricane Sandy recovery grant.
In attendance at the presentation were Atlantic County Sheriff Frank Balles, Atlantic County Freeholder-at-Large Alex Marino and other local leaders.
Levinson opened the discussion, praising Christie’s taking an active hand in addressing what’s been an ongoing issue in Atlantic City. At one point, he said, the city was home to fully half the state’s homeless population. Thoresen and Guardian also spoke.
During his visit, Christie joined a roundtable discussion with Levinson, Thoresen and program staff to discuss its work so far.
In a phone interview Tuesday morning, former Atlantic City Rescue Mission Executive Director William Southrey expressed skepticism of the program, saying it offers the same existing services under a new guise.
“The design is the same design we’ve always had, so I don’t know how the outcomes are different,” he said. “It’s the same thing we’ve always had, but they’ve infused it with more money.”
Southrey is currently suing the Rescue Mission over allegations of health discrimination related to his 2012 termination.
Staff Writer Wallace Mckelvey contributed to this report.
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