Atlantic County streamlines process for helping the homeless

Ann Thoresen is director of the Atlantic Homeless Alliance, housed in the county office building in downtown Atlantic City.
Ann Thoresen is director of the Atlantic Homeless Alliance, housed in the county office building in downtown Atlantic City. (AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 20, 2014

ATLANTIC CITY They may not have a permanent roof over the heads, but as of Tuesday, Atlantic County's homeless at least have a portal.

"This program will give a single point of entry - a doorway - for homeless individuals and families in Atlantic County to find the help and services they need," said Ann Thoresen, director of the Atlantic Homeless Alliance, which opened Tuesday inside the county office building on Atlantic Avenue.

Thoresen said finding help - especially as more jobless people join the ranks of the homeless in a faltering regional economy - is a sometimes tangled and difficult process. It often leaves some of the estimated 2,000 homeless people who seek assistance in the county annually ultimately falling through the cracks, she said.

"Today we've seen everything from people who aren't homeless yet but received an eviction notice and can't afford to go anywhere else to go to people who have been out on the street for a while," Thoresen noted of the "steady" stream of dozens and dozens of homeless people seeking help who came to the alliance on its first day of operation.

The goal of the program is to simplify the basic assessments for services that are done when a homeless person seeks assistance - something that was being done on a piecemeal basis by the county's various social service organizations. That system didn't allow any agency to track outcomes of that assistance, or create data and information that could help agencies make informed decisions about programming, Thoresen said.

"The goal is to provide better service more efficiently for the people who need it," Thoresen said.

And that was good news to John Stevens, 68, a homeless Vietnam veteran who says he often spends the night at the Atlantic City Rescue Mission - or sometimes under the Boardwalk - but has trouble "keeping it all straight" when it comes to seeking the medical attention and other services he needs to get by.

"It's been very hard for me since I lost my job . . . in a life that has been hard enough," said Stevens, an unemployed casino cook who said he lost his job during a round of layoffs at the Tropicana about five years ago. He then found himself out on the street after staying with siblings and friends for a few years, he said. "I have high blood pressure, emphysema, a lot of things wrong with me. At one point, I just had nowhere to go but out on the street."

Thoresen agreed that seeking assistance can sometimes be a complicated maze.

"The collaborators of this program have long experience in addressing the needs of our homeless citizens, and are committed to helping individuals who are homeless to develop the best plan possible for their needs," Thoresen said.

The $1.9 million program is being funded by the state Casino Reinvestment Development Authority and will run through September 2015. It is administered through Jewish Family Service of Atlantic and Cape May Counties, and serves as a clearinghouse for a variety of services. The hours of operation will be Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. After-hours intake needs will be handled by the Rescue Mission, which is working in partnership with the alliance.

Seven staff members from the Jewish Family Service will handle the intake assessments, along with two Rescue Mission staff members and one staff member from the Pleasantville Housing Authority. The agency also has a subcontract with the John Brooks Recovery Center in Atlantic City to help with the homeless who may have substance-abuse issues.


More information about the Atlantic Homeless Alliance may be obtained by calling 609-343-2277.

Contact Jacqueline L. Urgo at 609-652-8382 or jurgo@phillynews.com

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