Before we discuss Atlantic City, the homeless and the Atlantic City Rescue Mission (yet again), we have some stipulations.

No. 1: We don't have the answer to the problem and the problems of the homeless. As far as we know, no one does. Indeed, the nation's capital is awash in the homeless. The homeless are everywhere in Washington, D.C. So if anyone tells you they have a plan to get the homeless off the streets of Atlantic City and off the Boardwalk, they don't.

No. 2: The people who devote their lives to helping the homeless - like, say, the people who run the Atlantic City Rescue Mission - are good people doing important, selfless work. Yes, they get paid. But they clearly aren't in it for themselves. And they sure aren't in it for the glamour.

No. 3: There were homeless people in Atlantic City long before the Rescue Mission was built. Indeed, that's why it was built - the resort has always drawn the homeless. And always will.

So ... having stipulated all of the above, the remaining question is this: What can humanely be done to minimize the effect of the homeless population on Atlantic City's current attempt to revitalize itself?

Move the Rescue Mission out of Atlantic City? Quite possibly. We've said it before: State Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, is correct when he says Atlantic City cannot be both the economic engine for the region and the main site for social service agencies that serve the homeless.

Moving the Rescue Mission won't eliminate the problem. It would, however, be a sensible first step (as would moving Sister Jean's Kitchen and the John Brooks Recovery Center).

But none of that will happen immediately.

However, what can be done immediately is to ensure that Atlantic City stops being a magnet for all the homeless in southern New Jersey.

Ocean County, in particular, is well known for sending its homeless to Atlantic City. Ocean County, and every other county, should take care of their own homeless.

The Atlantic City Rescue Mission is a private enterprise dedicated to helping those in need. Its goal is to say yes, not no. And that's laudable.

But the mission nevertheless should welcome calls to better screen its clientele. And, indeed, the mission recently agreed to let Atlantic County social workers evaluate all new arrivals. The county has made it clear that, in some cases, it will be transporting the homeless back to their points of origin.

Harsh? Perhaps. But fair.

So much regarding the homeless is difficult to address. This much should be easy.

A rescue mission in a resort town trying to rebuild a struggling tourism industry is taking care of a disproportionate share of southern New Jersey's homeless right now. That makes no sense. And it is unfair to an entire region that depends on Atlantic City.

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