A plan to create a single entry point for the homeless in Atlantic County can't happen without relocating two longstanding charity centers in Atlantic City out of the tourism zone, county Executive Dennis Levinson said Monday.
The John Brooks Recovery Center and Sister Jean's Kitchen, both on Pacific Avenue in the Tourism District, will need to relocate to reflect the efforts of the cooperative plan between Atlantic County and the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, he said.
"When we were the second most popular destination for gaming in country, lots of these things could be absorbed and overlooked. We are now fighting for our place" with competition from Pennsylvania, Delaware and New York, Levinson said. "We don't want to sound insensitive, but having a location right on Pacific Avenue in the middle of the Tourism District is not conducive" to bringing visitors into Atlantic City.
The problem of addressing the homeless in Atlantic City started with those living under the Boardwalk, which is an issue that has been resolved, Levinson said. The result, though, is that the homeless have moved to the streets.
The proposed referral program directs all homeless in the county to the county administration building, 1333 Atlantic Ave. in Atlantic City, where they will meet with a case manager. There they would be registered, given health evaluations and asked about their last known address.
A public hearing on the plan was held at the CRDA office Monday morning, but no one showed up to contest the plans during the 10-minute meeting. Although it was previously reported that a vote on the plan was expected in July, spokeswoman Kim Butler said it is not on the agenda for today's regular meeting.
All agencies involved - including the state, the county, the city, CRDA, the Atlantic City Rescue Mission, the United Way, the Brooks center, Sister Jean's, Jewish Family Services and AtlantiCare - reported in June that they had been meeting informally for months to discuss the new plans.
Rescue Mission President Dan Brown said the organization has traditionally acted as a point of entry by default, and will probably continue to do so on the weekends, when the county office is closed.
"People are attracted here (Atlantic City) because it has typically been a vacation destination. It's good that we recognize that" and are working to make it a destination, Brown said. Based on the information collected at the mission, more than half the homeless are from outside the county.
Brown said he estimates one third are from New Jersey outside Atlantic County and one third are from other areas in the country.
"The town that we are - the Las Vegas of the East or better - people want to be part of the next best thing, and it goes all the way down the line, whether you have a lot of money or not. You want to experience all the entertainment," Brown said.
But the goal is to ensure that resources in the county are helping those from the county, Levinson said. This is also a benefit to the homeless people who need to be around family and friends throughout their recovery, he said. So both Atlantic County and the homeless benefit from the plan.
In June, some agencies discussed ways to provide transportation from their locations to and from the county office building as new homeless arrive. At that time, the CRDA set aside $100,000 to help offset costs of title work and surveying services associated with moving Sister Jean's and the Brooks center outside the Tourism District.
"It's now down to the dollars and cents," Levinson said, although nothing concrete has been decided about a move. Levinson added that it would be ideal to relocate to a place that is along a bus route for easy access.
Additionally, the CRDA discussed a startup cost in June, which was not disclosed, as well as hiring a third party to provide the case managers after the work is initially done in-house by the county and CRDA.
Brown said that although things are moving ahead, until the actual RFP comes out from the state and funding is secured, there is no way to assess the impacts of the plan.
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