ATLANTIC CITY — A New Jersey Transit pilot program limiting ticketed passengers to two hours in seating areas is forcing homeless people out of the city’s bus station.
The program, which started this summer and is still in the assessment stage, applies to seating at stations in Atlantic City, Hoboken, Newark and Secaucus. The intent of the policy is to “ensure that our ticketed customers have access to seating while waiting for their travel,” NJ Transit spokeswoman Jennifer Nelson said.
But homeless advocates said the program is “a bad plan” that invites selective enforcement and pushes out the homeless.
“There should be an embracing plan. Let’s find a place to put them,” said Bill Southrey, president of Haven/Beat The Streets, an organization designed to help the poor.
Sean Warner is homeless and can be frequently seen at Atlantic City’s NJ Transit bus station, traveling to work or the places where he stays. Transit police have enforced the policy on him, he said, pulling a marked ticket out of his pocket.
“What they will do is they will take your ticket and mark it and then they will come back and say, ‘I marked your ticket for this time and now you have to leave.’ Doesn’t matter if it’s raining or the bus is late,” he said.
Warner also said: “The majority of these people are homeless and got nowhere else to go.”
In determining the two-hour time limit, NJ Transit reviewed the policies of other stations — including New York’s Penn Station — as well as its service schedule, Nelson said.
She said managing the environment in NJ Transit stations is “a balance between providing a quality customer experience and showing compassion for people who appear to be struggling with various circumstances.”
Nelson added NJ Transit has a full-time social worker on staff to help people in need of assistance and its police work with clergy whose focus is on addressing the needy.
Ann Thoresen, director of the Atlantic Homeless Alliance, which assists individuals and families who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless in Atlantic County, said NJ Transit allows community partners to come into the Atlantic City station to do outreach, so organizations can link homeless people to the appropriate resources.
Atlantic Homeless Alliance, for example, has a screening process to meet the needs of those who recently lost a job or who have been homeless for a long time, Thoresen said.
Southrey, a former president of the Atlantic City Rescue Mission, said there’s “quite a few” homeless people at the city’s bus station at night.
He said part of the problem lies in the lack of homeless shelters across the state. And he said many shelters only take people “from the locale.”
“They’re pushing 10,000 people around,” he said. “Start working toward solving the issues, not moving them, herding them like cattle.”