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Committee takes Atlantic City cleanup efforts to the streets

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ATLANTIC CITY — Rather than sit back and wait for those in need to come to them, a group of vested community stakeholders is taking its efforts to the streets.

The Cleaner, Safer & Healthier Committee, chaired by 3rd Ward Councilman Kaleem Shabazz, has started a social services outreach program focused on Renaissance Plaza and the surrounding area. Located on one of the city’s primary thoroughfares and in the heart of the Tourism District, the shopping center is an area of concern for local officials because of loitering, drug use, panhandling and other misdemeanor, but frequent, criminal activities.

The committee includes representatives from AtlantiCare, Volunteers of America, Jewish Family Services, the Atlantic City Police Department, NJ Transit police and the John Brooks Recovery Center.

During a meeting Friday morning, the committee provided status updates after its first full week of outreach services, which put four people into contact with drug treatment resources.

“I am encouraged,” Shabazz said. “It’s not going to be like on TV when the problem is solved in a half-hour or hour. But I think, if we are consistent and stay focused, that we can improve, No. 1 Renaissance Plaza and No. 2 Atlantic Avenue.”

The committee deploys people to Atlantic Avenue for two hours every day (1 to 3 p.m.) armed with information about available resources for those who need assistance with anything from meals to housing to health issues.

Shabazz said the committee is modeled after successful efforts to clean up Brown’s Park a couple of years back. City leaders focused on the notoriously drug- and crime-riddled park and, over time, transformed it into a cleaner and safer community asset. Now, the newly formed committee, which has met three times and plans to hold bi-weekly meetings, has shifted its focus to an area city officials consider a priority.

The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, which oversees the city’s Tourism District where the shopping center and Atlantic Avenue are located, recently approved security upgrades, including additional lighting and cameras, at Renaissance Plaza after City Council unanimously adopted a resolution urging the state agency’s assistance.

“Renaissance Plaza has to be improved,” Shabazz said. “(After CRDA agreed to help), I figured the next step was to figure out a way to engage all those people hanging around there.”

Amanda Leese, regional director for Atlantic City with Volunteers of America Delaware Valley Inc., said the nonprofit became involved with the Cleaner, Safer & Healthier Committee because of its commitment to Atlantic City and its connections to the at-risk/in-need population.

“We have, probably, the largest outreach presence in Atlantic City,” she said. “We know the area that (Shabazz) wanted to target with these efforts.”

Leese likened the committee’s goals to “outreach on steroids,” combining resources from the various agencies into a single concerted effort.

“That area has been a problem in the city for some time, but it is not just a social services or law-enforcement issue,” said Leese. “It’s got to be attacked together.”

Law-enforcement officials from ACPD and NJ Transit suggested using the court system to deter repeat offenders in the area. Since Renaissance Plaza is private property, the management company can either remove people directly or file restraining orders to keep certain individuals away. The tactic is similar to one already employed at Tanger Outlets The Walk, where management provides verbal warnings to troublemakers before filing paperwork to ban them completely.

Vinnie Kirkland, care manager at AtlantiCare, said several people who frequent the area around Renaissance Plaza and the stretch of Atlantic Avenue down to the Atlantic City Bus Terminal lack another place to go, which the committee agreed only reinforced its reason for being out on the street in the first place.

“For them, it’s a place to go and congregate and run into people,” said Kirkland. “But we have to think about other resources for them and let them know it’s not really going to be a hangout for you.”

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Contact: 609-272-7222 Twitter @ACPressDanzis

Staff Writer

I cover Atlantic City government and the casino industry since joining The Press in early 2018. I formerly worked as a politics & government reporter for NJ Herald and received the First Amendment: Art Weissman Memorial NJPA Award two years in a row.

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