A long-standing debate over managing the homeless in Atlantic City may see some resolution through a state plan to provide start-up funding to help weed out homeless people from other areas who are attempting to access social services in the resort.
The announcement Tuesday by the New Jersey Casino Reinvestment Development Authority follows months of discussion over how to provide more efficient services for the city’s poor. Critics have said homelessness doesn’t mix well with the Atlantic City Tourism District and should be better controlled.
Government and tourism officials have long talked about how to better manage the resort’s large homeless population. But the topic took on a new sense of urgency last year when two tourists were killed in the Tourism District, allegedly by a homeless schizophrenic woman from Philadelphia.
“We need to do a better job of managing intake services. ... We’ll be doing this with an eye towards creating a better and safer district for tourism,”said CRDA Executive Director John Palmieri.
The CRDA on Tuesday took steps toward providing start-up costs — the exact amount of which was not disclosed — to a “single point of entry” office for social services staffed by a third-party operator, said Susan Ney Thompson, CRDA’s deputy executive director.
Other state and federal funding is expected to help offset the costs, she said.
If the project is advanced, homeless people seeking services from individual agencies such as the Atlantic City Rescue Mission or the county’s welfare services would instead be directed to a single entry point. There they would be registered, assigned a case manager and given health evaluations to better identify approriate services.
The homeless will also be asked about their last known residence and the locations of their families, friends and other services they’ve used previously. Efforts will be made to return those from outside Atlantic County or outside of the state to other locations with the goal of controlling the number of people seeking services in Atlantic City, said Atlantic County Administrator Gerald Del Rosso.
“What we’re not going to do is we’re not going to send people out of here if they don’t have a place to go,” Del Rosso said. “What we don’t want to do is what everybody is doing to Atlantic County. They’ll say, ‘Here’s a bus ticket. Go down and get a job at one of the casinos.’ That doesn’t work.”
Atlantic County identified the “single point of entry” system as a solution in its 10-year homeless-management plan and has offered the use of the Atlantic County Office Building on Atlantic Avenue at no cost to start up the program. The county will not provide staffing.
Instead CRDA plans to issue a request for proposals for an operator of the site, which could be selected as early as August. That operator would be employed by CRDA for the the short term, though the authority would eventually seek to turn over operation to the county, Thompson said.
CRDA granted preliminary approval to the project Tuesday. A second vote on the measure is expected in July.
“Hopefully as we hear more about how people are being sent here, we’ll then be able to go back and talk to those who are sending them,” Thompson said. “That should also help to address some overcrowding issues at the rescue mission.”
This is not the first attempt to funnel the homeless through the Atlantic County Office Building. Following the tourist killings last year, the Atlantic City Rescue Mission announced a policy that would turn people away from its doors on Bacharach Boulevard and toward the county building nearly a mile away for intake services. The policy was later scaled back, with only a few clients per day referred to the building.
The new system would differ in that it would provide each person with a comprehensive plan for services and ensure that all are registered in a Homeless Management Information System that tracks activity and notes what services the individual has utilized.
All agencies affected, including the state, the county, the city, CRDA, the rescue mission, the United Way, the John Brooks center, Jewish Family Services, AtlantiCare and others have been meeting informally for months to discuss the new plans. Some agencies are discussing ways to provide transportation from their locations to and from the county office building as new homeless arrive.
CRDA on Tuesday also took steps toward setting aside $100,000 that could be used to help offset costs of title work and surveying services associated with moving agencies such as Sister Jean’s Kitchen and the John Brooks Recovery Center outside the Tourism District.
While the CRDA is working to allocate financing for relocation, Thompson said no announcements are imminent.
Brooks center Executive Director Alan Oberman, whose center has operated in the resort since 1969, said its largest challenge is finding a way to still have a presence in the city outside of the Tourism District. Of the 700 people in programming, approximately 40 percent live in Atlantic City, he said. The agency is considering one campus on the mainland accessible by bus and a second in another city location outside of the Tourism District.
“We’re not prepared to completely abandon and give up any services in Atlantic City,” he said. “I’m guardedly optimistic that it will happen. What gives me optimism is that this is a sensible project.”
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