ATLANTIC CITY — Discarded napkins and plastic cups sat strewn across Michigan Avenue just after sunrise Monday as a few bikers and joggers traversed the mostly empty Boardwalk.
Stephanie Riis and Genie Lang usually run 5 miles, but decided to travel the Boardwalk’s full 10 miles end to end.
“We’re used to it. If you’re a tourist, you wouldn’t be used to it. You wouldn’t know,” said Riis, of Linwood.
“You’d be like, ‘This is disgusting,’” said Lang, of Egg Harbor Township.
Along with running through the litter, Riis and Lang also said they experienced some heckling and cat-calling. They said they sometimes encounter this kind of behavior between the vacant Atlantic Club and the Steel Pier, but it doesn’t deter them.
“I don’t know if we feel unsafe. I don’t know if that’s the word. Just annoyed more than anything. It could be so much better,” Riis said.
While police, who have started patrolling earlier each morning, have said they’ve made progress maintaining order on the Boardwalk, some locals and visitors still view litter and a homeless population in the morning as a threat to safety.
On Sunday, the Tourism District Unit went back to two shifts, one from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. and another from 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. Those shifts are seven days a week, according to Tourism District Commander Capt. Rudy Lushina.
Lushina said the police department was able to add the additional shift after 16 new Class II officers graduated from the Atlantic County Police Academy on Friday.
The city also assigned four homeless outreach officers in the Tourism District when it launched its Neighborhood Coordination Unit in May with $7.5 million from the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority.
Stopping in front of Brighton Park at about 7:30 a.m. Monday, Lang counted five people sleeping on benches.
A man dozed with his chin tucked against his chest, an empty french fry bag in his left hand. A woman covered her head with a purple Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City beach towel, leaving her galaxy-print leggings exposed.
Another covered herself with two sleeping bags next to a shopping cart full of bulging plastic bags and a bucket of plastic flowers.
Ros Davis, 65, of Middlesex County, was surprised Monday morning at how dirty it was and how many homeless people her and her husband saw regularly on the Boardwalk on their early morning walks.
“I wouldn’t feel comfortable on the Atlantic City Boardwalk by myself at six o’clock in the morning,” she said.
The Special Improvement Division’s General Maintenance team cleans the entire Boardwalk starting at 4 a.m. every day except Tuesday and Wednesday when they start at 6 a.m., said CRDA executive director Matt Doherty.
Lang and Riis did notice workers cleaning the Boardwalk from north to south, but thought it could be done earlier so that all of the Boardwalk is cleaned by a certain hour.
Along with early morning debris, some see homeless people as contributing to the Boardwalk’s poor image.
However, Henry Davis, Ros’s husband, didn’t believe their poor appearance posed a danger to walkers.
“I don’t think they should be a threat because they’re homeless,” he said. “They just don’t look good, but when you’re homeless, you can’t look good.”
Walking in front of Park Place, a Class II police officer clapped his hands above Pamela Shepard’s head.
In the past week alone, Shepard, who is homeless, has received three tickets for sleeping in public, which the city fines $54.
This is a completely new experience for Shepard.
She was fired from her job as an administrative coordinator at Johns Hopkins University in November 2017 after she had trouble getting to work on time once Baltimore overhauled its bus system that year.
After continued financial setbacks, she traveled to Atlantic City and has stayed since late February to take advantage of casino comps that sometimes offered free meals.
“I can see how that can be a bit of an eyesore, so I do understand what they’re talking about,” she said about the early morning patrols, “but sometimes you don’t have another option.”
According to Lushina, the Class II officers are trained to try to assess what the issue is with that particular homeless person, whether it is a substance abuse issue, mental health issue, victim of domestic abuse, a veteran, or any other issue that is causing them to be homeless.
“The first step is to try and help the person through the outreach agencies so they are no longer a problem on the Boardwalk or anywhere else in the city,” he said.
The three officers offered her resources, but Shepherd declined saying she was concerned about the conditions in certain shelters and about her status as a non-New Jersey resident.
“We try to recommend help as much as we can,” said Class II officer Kush Laroiya, who walked with another group of three officers on the Northern section of the Boardwalk near Tennessee Avenue. “It’s on them if they take it.”