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Atlantic City’s plan to combat homelessness on the boardwalk and beyond – NBC10 Philadelphia

Atlantic City’s plan to combat homelessness on the boardwalk and beyond – NBC10 Philadelphia

Atlantic City’s plan to combat homelessness on the boardwalk and beyond – NBC10 Philadelphia

What to know

  • Atlantic City is making an effort to address its homeless population, offering help even as it vows to crack down on people sleeping rough on public property.
  • Following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing municipalities to ban homeless encampments, Atlantic City plans to enact an ordinance banning sleeping on public property. It could go into effect as early as September.
  • City outreach teams offer social services, drug or alcohol rehabilitation and a temporary place to stay, but many decline the offers.

In a place with a long history of people living, and sometimes dying, under the Boardwalk, Atlantic City has launched an effort to address the homeless problem by preventing people from sleeping on public property and connecting them to shelters and services.

The effort comes just days after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that municipalities can ban homeless encampments, something the city said would support its efforts to address the homeless problem.

The fire came after a man was killed at a homeless encampment under the boardwalk on April 19, months after another fire, suspected to have been started by homeless people, burned a section of the boardwalk in front of the Resorts casino. The damage has since been repaired.

“We can’t claim to be a world-class resort if we don’t address the issues that the resort sometimes faces,” said Democratic Mayor Marty Small.

The city is implementing plans from its Boardwalk Improvement Group, which includes using state funds to pay workers, training and equipment to seek out homeless people and offer them help, including transportation back to where they came from.

But that offer is often rejected. Of the 200 homeless people city officials have contacted since September, only five have accepted the offer to return home, officials said.

Many others refuse any kind of help, said Jarrod Barnes, director of health and human services in Atlantic City.

“When that happens, there is nothing we can do,” he said. “We cannot force them to accept help.”

City officials had barely begun their rounds of known homeless sites when they came across a disoriented man lying on a sidewalk in the midday sun. An ambulance was called and he was taken to a nearby hospital for evaluation.

Not far away, in a vacant lot strewn with empty liquor bottles, two young women who described themselves as homeless acknowledged receiving help multiple times from city outreach teams.

Essence, who declined to give her last name, said the city had given her free motel accommodations, but she later returned to the streets. At one point, she said, she lived in a homeless encampment under the Boardwalk, until police dismantled it.

Tanisha, who also did not want to give her last name, said she had no idea where she would spend Monday night.

“We’re just trying to make our way, find a way,” he said.

But she acknowledged that she and other people living outdoors are not always willing to accept help.

“It’s up to us to do what we need to do first,” he said. “The struggle is real.”

Following the Supreme Court ruling, Atlantic City plans to introduce an ordinance in the coming weeks that would ban sleeping in public places. The ordinance could be approved and put into effect as early as September.

The outreach initiative includes 10 full-time workers assigned to find and interact with homeless people, offer social services, a path to drug or alcohol rehabilitation if needed, and a place to stay. Police assign officers to regularly patrol locations known as homeless hotspots, and police, fire and public works officers have received training on how to interact with homeless people.

Small noted that some of the homeless encampments have shown real ingenuity: refrigerators and microwave ovens have been wired to makeshift electrical connections.

And, he added, residents of one encampment managed to access the hose of a line under the Boardwalk that supplies beer to a casino’s beachfront bar.