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Removal of West A.C. motels has left at least one couple without a place to live
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Removal of West A.C. motels has left at least one couple without a place to live

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ATLANTIC CITY — Egg Harbor Township wants to remove four dilapidated motels from its West Atlantic City section to visually improve one of the entranceways to the resort and reduce flooding on the Black Horse Pike.

Some of the people living in the motels had their rents forgiven, so they would have money to move, but at least one couple — Rahsaan Anderson, 35, and his 5-month-pregnant girlfriend, Tahliyah Gaskins, 21, — have found themselves with no place to live.

The resort and Atlantic County were struggling with homelessness and housing instability before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Amanda Leese, senior vice president of the Safe Return and Navigator programs, Volunteers of America, Delaware Valley.

The poverty level in Atlantic City is a challenge, Leese said. Even though there are well-funded programs to help the homeless, there is a lack of housing that people can afford, she said.

For Anderson and Gaskins, their last day at the Hi-Ho Motel was Sept. 7.

Since then, the couple, who do not have a car, have been staying at other motels, crashing at friends’ homes, or spending all night out on the streets or under the Boardwalk.

“I can’t have my child’s mother out in the streets. She gets tired a lot. It’s hard,” said Anderson, formerly of Philadelphia, who is trying to make money, so they can eat. “I want to make sure she sleeps. I want her to be OK.”

The couple was living in a house in Egg Harbor City that they had to leave because of mold, which led them to the Red Carpet Inn in Galloway Township.

When the COVID-19 pandemic started, Anderson was downsized out of his job at the Discount City Liquor store in Egg Harbor City. They moved to the Hi-Ho Motel at least three months ago because the rent was cheaper.

Anderson received unemployment insurance money for a period of time.

Among the three different places they have lived, he lost his wallet, which included his social security card. His social security card was his means of identification that helped him obtain such benefits as unemployment payments.

Anderson and Gaskins, formerly of Egg Harbor City, and their representatives from the Eastern Service Workers Association appeared before the Township Committee of Egg Harbor Township seeking help last month.

Egg Harbor Township Administrator Peter J. Miller said the township’s closing on the motels moved from Sept. 30 to Oct. 30.

Three of the four property owners told the township that the people residing in their motels found other places to live, Miller said. There is not much the township could do, he said.

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The township still plan to demolish the four motels — the Bay Point Inn, the Hi-Ho Motel, Destiny Inn and Budget Motel — before the end of this calendar year, even though the closing has been pushed back a month, Miller said.

This is not a case of eminent domain, so the township did not have to reimburse or relocate the people staying in the motels, Miller said. Also, the people staying in a motel are considered guests. It is not the same as a landlord and tenant relationship where leases are in place.

“The property owners moved people,” said Miller, who added that by the third week of September, the township was told everyone was gone except for two people. “Three of them (motel owners) told us everyone found somewhere else to live.”

The Egg Harbor Township police contacted Volunteers of America and provided them with the couples information in order to assist them during this difficult time for them, Miller said.

Harry Vankawala owns the Hi-Ho Motel. The Press called Vankawala on Thursday. He said either he would call back or his lawyer would call, but neither did. The Press also tried to call Vankawala on Friday. A message was left for him, but he did not call back.

Anderson and Gaskins are two of the people who have not found a place to live. They say they cannot stay at the Atlantic City Rescue Mission because of COVID-19. Anderson is looking for work.

“I have applications everywhere.” said Anderson, who was interviewed by The Press in-person Oct. 1 in the resort. “On Monday (Sept. 28), I went to an interview. I did a background check, and we’re waiting for that.”

As of Tuesday, Anderson was still unemployed, an Eastern Service Workers Association representative said.

The couple has received the most help from Volunteers of America, the Eastern Service Workers Association, Catholic Charities and 211. Catholic Charities and the Eastern Service Workers Association have helped the couple with food, and the association is also assisting them with clothes.

“Volunteers of America is letting us use their address in Atlantic City,” Anderson said.

Without a permanent address, it is difficult to receive such government benefits as unemployment.

Anderson has been working on making enough money so he and his girlfriend can eat for the day and so that they can pay to stay at the Madison Hotel Boardwalk Atlantic City for the night.

On Oct. 1, Gaskins said she visited a hospital two weeks earlier, and everything was OK with her baby.

The Eastern Services Workers Association is making sure Gaskins sees a doctor at least once a month. Gaskins is due to give birth Feb. 11.

“There is so much red tape involved with everything because of COVID,” Anderson said. “I want my child to have a place.”

Those looking to help Anderson or Gaskins or donate to the organization assisting them can reach out to Volunteers of America Delaware Valley, Atlantic County Safe Return, 26 S. Pennsylvania Ave., Atlantic City, N.J. 08401.

Contact: 609-272-7202

VJackson@pressofac.com

Twitter@ACPressJackson

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