ATLANTIC CITY — The Department of Community Affairs will reopen some hotels and motels in the resort to house homeless people, according to a state official.
Previously, individuals were being transported to surrounding towns for rooming after Mayor Marty Small Sr. closed hotels and motels in the city to discourage out-of-towners from visiting the city during the pandemic.
“I issued an executive order to protect the good people of Atlantic City, and (DCA Deputy Commissioner) Rob Long made a decision to reopen the hotels,” Small said Thursday. “That’s all I have to say.”
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A verbal assurance of the change was given to local officials Wednesday morning in a conference call by Long, Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson said. Long did not say, however, that no more homeless people would be relocated to other towns from the resort, Levinson added.
The DCA controls the city under the state takeover and has the authority to override city officials. The transporting of individuals, through the longstanding state 211 program, to towns like Absecon, Galloway Township and Egg Harbor Township had sparked fear in some residents of a possible spread of COVID-19.
“Yesterday, (I) was sent a picture of someone panhandling in the White Horse Liquors in Absecon,” Levinson said. “‘Can you help? I was sent here from Atlantic City.’ That’s what his poster said.”
On Tuesday, Absecon Mayor Kimberly Horton sent a letter to residents saying they passed a resolution to stop individuals being relocated there. Galloway Township Manager Chris Johansen and Hamilton Township Mayor Art Schenker recently announced similar measures.
“We are not yet aware that anyone with the disease has relocated here,” Schenker said. “This is a precautionary measure that we are taking.”
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For some time during the relocations, local officials seemed to be locked out of information. Horton speculated the county might have been involved.
“We’re still trying to get to the bottom of who is responsible for these folks,” Horton wrote. “Is it the state or the county?”
The state is responsible, Levinson said. The state pays for the first five days of housing and, if an individual qualifies for a longer stay, state and federal funding covers 95% of cases, Levinson said. The county has never transported a single homeless person from Atlantic City to surrounding towns, he added. He said he is also concerned about the possible spread of COVID-19.
Some 30 agencies are involved in the program that houses homeless people, Levinson said.
“If someone calls off-hours, a 211 call … it’s mandated by the state to find them a place,” Levinson said. “The state does this without having any security, without maintaining these individuals where they send them, and not even knowing the amount of individuals they send to these municipalities.”
DCA spokesperson Lisa Ryan, in a statement, said the city will continue to provide for those in need during the pandemic.
“The city of Atlantic City continues to expect that it will address social service needs arising from the coronavirus pandemic through the continuum of care partnership, which includes the city, area nonprofits and Atlantic County,” Ryan said.
Egg Harbor Township is one of the towns that has seen homeless individuals put up in its hotel rooms. Mayor Paul Hodson said he wasn’t made aware of how many people were relocated to the town.
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Hodson wasn’t aware, either, whether any of the relocated individuals were positive for COVID-19, as some had speculated. A state official was unaware of whether any had been tested.
“I don’t know how many we have or not,” Hodson said. “This thing … there was no warning with what they were gonna do and how they were gonna do it. And a lot of municipalities were affected by them repositioning people in the county.”