Before crowds gather to watch Miss America contestants parade on the Boardwalk, officers and outreach workers are making sure everything is clear under the Boardwalk.
Atlantic City police Officer Bill Wenz and a group that included Jewish Family Services, the Rescue Mission and the Department of Veterans Affairs swept the wooden walkway early Thursday morning in an effort to get the homeless staying there off the street and possibly into a program that may help them.
Wenz has been working homeless outreach for several years, after his time on the midnight shift saw him moving the same people off the Boardwalk every night. Now, instead of just pushing the homeless along, social service groups are there to get them help.
Also part of the group Thursday was one of the city’s new police chaplains, the Rev. David McGettigan of St. Andrew by the Sea.
“It’s not just hustling people off or pushing them out,” McGettigan said. “But it’s actually offering help.”
It seems to be working.
Wenz said the people he sees now are new. His “regulars” all seem to have gotten help and moved off.
As day broke Thursday, few people were found.
The world under the Boardwalk seemed quieted.
“That there’s no one here is the result of weeks and weeks of work,” said the Rescue Mission’s Alex Siniari.
He is on the Boardwalk almost six days a week. Wenz spends much of his normal shift there as well, while also keeping tabs on other areas of the city where the homeless are known to frequent. Then, monthly, there is this larger effort, dubbed “Outreach at the Beach.”
“Now, I’m going down into the hole,” Siniari said, as he walked toward the street end of the Boardwalk just south of Revel Casino-Hotel.
Climbing over the rail, he slid through a small separation between the Boardwalk and a wall blocking entryway to underneath.
“There’s a camp,” he yelled up after a few minutes.
Underneath Revel, in a little alcove, was a makeshift bed complete with pillow, blanket and a knife. Under the bed were a pair of slippers. But, no one was found.
“It’s really organized,” Siniari said.
Wenz said a call would be made to the Special Improvement District to clear out the belongings.
Patrol officers weren’t having any luck with one man who said he didn’t want any help. But after he indicated he was a veteran, Ken Gorski, of the Department of Veteran Affairs, was called over. After spending about 15 minutes going over everything with the man, he took his number and said he would get back to him after verifying his status.
“He said he’ll take help,” Gorski said as he came back to the group.
Joel, a 37-year-old man walking with two others, also agreed to get help.
Kandace first caught the groups’ attention as she stumbled down the Boardwalk helped by her boyfriend, Joseph, who said he has been staying at the mission. He was too late getting there Wednesday night, so the three slept in the bus waiting area at Showboat Casino Hotel.
Just rousted from there, Kandace said she was just tired. Joel acted the same way. But Wenz saw more.
“Notice the heroin nod?” he whispered under his breath.
While Kandace and Joseph moved on, he was able to convince Joel to go with the mission’s chaplain, Mark Engler. He was hoping to get him into the John Brooks Recovery Center.
“Just five today,” Wenz said in the end. “But it’s good.”
He’ll check again just before the Sept. 14 parade.
While the Bomb Squad sweeps the area for any potential dangers, Wenz will sweep the area for those who need help.
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