Rarely is homelessness an isolated problem. Many homeless people also have serious medical, mental-health or substance-abuse issues. So the people most in need of help may be those least-equipped to navigate the social-services maze.
And homelessness is also a social problem. It has long been recognized that the presence of large numbers of homeless people in Atlantic City is inconsistent with the mission of a resort that is trying to attract vacationers, conventioneers and other visitors. But over the years, the city became a destination point for the homeless. In part, this was the result of other towns shirking their responsibilities and shipping their homeless to the resort. Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson has estimated that at one point half of the state's homeless population lived in Atlantic City.
Levinson helped develop an experiment now being conducted by the Atlantic Homeless Alliance - a group made up of city and county officials, the state Department of Human Services and social-service organizations such as the Atlantic City Rescue Mission and Sister Jean's Kitchen - that offers the potential to better help individual homeless people and to better manage the effect the homeless population has on the resort's image. The early results are encouraging.
Gov. Chris Christie came to town Tuesday to congratulate the Atlantic Homeless Alliance on its Single Point of Entry program and to tout it as an example for other municipalities.
Since February, 750 people have been helped by the alliance, which processes people seeking services at the Atlantic County office building on Atlantic Avenue. The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority provided the seed money for this project, which is now operating on a $2 million federal Hurricane Sandy recovery grant. Jewish Family Services of Atlantic and Cape May Counties conducts the screenings and day-to-day services.
The idea is that rather than offer piecemeal services, the alliance creates a personal support plan for each person and acts as a go-between with social service agencies. It tracks the outcome of these interactions, and the data can be used to determine what services are most needed.
One of the most important results of these screenings is that homeless individuals can often be returned to their city of origin, where they are closer to family who can offer assistance. That should both help the homeless and go a long way toward keeping Atlantic City from being a dumping ground for other towns' social problems.
So far, the partners in the alliance seem
to be doing a good job of serving the needs of both the homeless and Atlantic City's tourism economy.