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Helping Atlantic City's Homeless

By Turiya S. A. Raheem
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 1 | Posted Jan. 21, 2013

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ATLANTIC CITY, NEW JERSEY — Last week, on a TV newscast, I saw the homeless woman who fatally stabbed two Canadians in Atlantic City last year. I could tell she “was not all there” even though I’m not a mental health professional. Reportedly, officials are still having her mental capacity tested. 

Also, she may have been passing through A.C., not unlike the Canadian couple, which is why I don’t like reporters’ references to her as “an Atlantic City woman.”  

We are a city of only about 40,000 residents with approximately 35 million tourists visiting our city each year and we want tourists to keep coming.

This week, as one of the fellows in the LEAD-ACT program, a kind of leadership institute/think tank of a very diverse group of Atlantic City residents, I was apprised of the many reasons why our city has such a large homeless population, many with mental health issues. 

LEAD-ACT fellows were given presentations by Atlantic Care employees, Rescue Mission workers, Salvation Army officials, Jewish Family Services supervisors and many others regarding homelessness in our area.

As we sat stunned by some of the statistics presented to us, we asked time and time again, “Why is our city such a magnet for homeless people?”  

The answers were varied and complicated but included the facts that Atlantic City is a 24-hour town, has great social and human service programs, holds better possibilities than many cities for legal work during peak tourist season and is a hotbed, some would say, for all types of illegal work because of the gaming-entertainment industry. 

Hundreds have been stranded in Atlantic City after gambling away everything they came with, and human trafficking is big in our area because traffickers can bring mainly girls in to service men during big concerts or boxing events and then move them on to the next big event before law enforcement officers can apprehend anyone.

Professionals who serve the homeless population daily reminded us that Americans, in general, are notorious for their NIMBY (not in my back yard) attitude, referring to people in this area who want to move the Rescue Mission and the John Brooks Recovery Center out of Atlantic City.  

If anything, according to these professionals, society has failed the people they serve by not having enough missions and drug rehab centers available to offer compassionate, affordable accessibility to services.  

They reminded us that we have to take responsibility for these people, because it is our society’s fault that such populations exist in the first place. Though they understand people’s concerns, they said the benefits of these programs far outweigh the disadvantages.

When large mental-health institutions began closing in the 1980s, smaller group homes were supposed to increase to provide home-like supervised housing to people with mental illnesses.  

For a variety of reasons, including NIMBY, there have never been enough of these homes to meet society’s needs. 

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1. Anonymous said... on Jan 25, 2013 at 12:23PM

“I worked the system in Atlantic City for over a decade and the main problem is not mental illness. It's a lack of new public housing being built by the government who has the funds. And the harsh guideline for people with certain felonies and then there is the issue of harsh racism. This nation still does not care about people of color. Most of the population we served were African and Hispanic who had felonies and down on their luck. Joblessness is a huge problem too, a lot of grown adults cannot read or write and pretend they can in society. By the way we had over 8,000 homeless in NC up from 5,000 since 2006.”

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