By Christie Duffy
They walk Atlantic City’s streets looking for a meal and a place to sleep. And New Jersey’s gambling mecca often attracts homeless people from other towns and counties, stressing an already over-burdened social services system, according to Atlantic County’s executive.
“What’s the problem? The problem is Greyhound therapy. Put them on a bus with no background and have them get off in Atlantic City,” Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson said.
Officials today announced a new program — the Atlantic Homeless Alliance. It creates a single point of data entry via a computer system to streamline all public and non-profit social service case files. Officials say it’ll help people to work together to get the homeless the help they need faster.
“What can we do to help you, and by the way where you from? If you are not from here you will go back. And you will be taken care of. Not because were heartless here and we don’t want to be our brother’s keeper because we are. But because you can get better service near people that love you,” Levinson said.
The county executive says there was a time when Atlantic City shouldered half the state’s homeless population. Although the percentage has gone down, he says it is still high, and no longer sustainable. The governor wants to see the system here set the stage for the rest of the state. He says they’ve been in talks to shake up the balance of where the homeless are helped in New Jersey for years.
“The disproportionate share of our state’s homeless that Atlantic City and County has taken care of,” Gov. Chris Christie said.
The new system to help the homeless here is being funded by about $2 million in federal Sandy aid. The money is due to run out in September 2015. Single Point of Entry was developed by state and county government as well as the Casino Redevelopment Authority. Non-profits like the biggest shelter in the area are also partners.
Single Point is also designed to try and relieve the pressure on bedrock shelters like the Atlantic City Mission, placing those from out of county into programs in their own communities.
Advocates say this change doesn’t mean all non-residents will be turned away, emphasizing that individuals will be referred on the basis of need, and that this is not a marketing tool to help ramp up tourism.