Back in June, we noted the new - and unusual, for Atlantic City - spirit of cooperation in the resort and a willingness to work together for the city's overall good.
That spirit of cooperation, we said, should be harnessed and focused on a way to move the Rescue Mission and the John Brooks Recovery Center out of the city and to relocate Sister Jean's Kitchen to a different part of the resort outside of the Tourism District.
Well, that now appears to be happening. Not that we're taking credit. The point is that this new spirit of cooperation has allowed the leaders of the Brooks Center, Sister Jean's Kitchen, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority and other involved agencies to sit down and work together to resolve a crucial issue. (The Rescue Mission may be another matter - more on that in a moment.)
State Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, deserves some credit for the progress. Moving these programs and facilities has been a topic of off-and-on discussion for years. But Whelan summed up the problem in a guest column in The Press when he noted - somewhat courageously - the obvious but controversial truth:
"Atlantic City cannot be the economic engine for the region with an economy based on tourism if it is the premier site of social agencies that serve the homeless."
Now, says Alan Oberman, director of the Brooks center, a drug-treatment facility, "All the forces have sort of crystallized ..."
Oberman and the Rev. John Scotland, who runs Sister Jean's Kitchen, appear to have an agreement in principle with the CRDA to move their facilities, and they are working on the financing details.
The Brooks center is looking at two locations elsewhere in Atlantic County for its residential and outpatient programs. The plan is to keep a small office and a mobile methadone clinic in the city. County Executive Dennis Levinson has suggested that an underused Atlantic County Utilities Authority building in an industrial area of Egg Harbor Township would be a good site for the Brooks center.
Scotland says the plan for Sister Jean's Kitchen is to move it from its site in the middle of the Tourism District to another spot in the city. Mayor Lorenzo Langford has warned that the soup kitchen should not be moved to a residential neighborhood, which is something we are sure all parties can agree on.
The missing link is the Rescue Mission, which fired longtime Executive Director William Southrey last week. Mission officials aren't talking about the reason for letting Southrey go or their thoughts about relocation. But moving the mission is key. It's good at its job - so good that it has, over the years, become a magnet for homeless people from all over South Jersey. And that's no longer an acceptable model for a resort that is trying to rebuild itself.
But as the Brooks center and Sister Jean's Kitchen have shown, this process doesn't have to be confrontational. And it doesn't have to hurt the people whom these three fine enterprises try to help.