While the short-term answer seems hard to come by for officials, one thing has become clear — Ocean City has a homeless issue.
Homelessness is nothing new to Ocean City. It’s been prevalent for a number of years, but it’s typically not as noticeable in the summer months. It’s now clear and obvious, and the time has come for the matter to get attention because many of the homeless individuals have gotten territorial, particularly over the Caroline Street Comfort Station.
Over the last several weeks, many items have been referred to the Ocean City Mayor and Council’s strategic planning sessions in the fall. The homeless problem on the Boardwalk and nearby areas must be included on that list.
On recent visits to the Boardwalk and downtown area, I have found homeless people at Sunset Park on the bayside, in the Inlet parking lot, under the Wicomico Street Pier, the city’s transit station between Philadelphia and Baltimore avenues and, of course, the Caroline Street Comfort Station.
Solutions to this issue will need to be multi-faceted because there’s no simple fix. Ignoring it is certainly not an option, however. Besides the obvious damage it does to the town’s image as a resort destination, there are also public safety concerns. In June, three homeless individuals were charged with assault and robbery after a knife-point robbery on the Boardwalk during a Friday afternoon. There have been numerous other incidents in recent years that speak to these individuals’ desperation for money. The matter has been discussed publicly by city officials as recently as February’s police commission meeting.
At that time, Police Chief Ross Buzzuro said, “A lot of them don’t want our help and that is the unfortunate part about it. I wish we had a panacea for this, but we just don’t and that’s the bottom line.”
The chief’s comments may be accurate but the city must do something to address the issue, specifically in regard to the comfort station. Two Fridays ago, there were seven individuals sprawled out around the comfort station in various states of sleep. When the torrential rain came, that number doubled and the homeless individuals were aggressive and made it clear to my group and others seeking a dry spot in between downpours it was their area and we weren’t welcome.
Some scary weather rolled through the area on Monday. I was actually in the grocery store when the tornado warning alert was issued. Cell phones immediately began buzzing with the alerts and it got a little chaotic. One frightened mom even turned and took a few steps toward the door before realizing she had her baby in the shopping cart.
For those folks at Harbour Island Marina, headquarters for the White Marlin Open, it was particularly chaotic. Fish In OC’s Scott Lenox, who writes a weekly fishing column for this paper, was one of those riding out the weather at the marina, where aware homeowners opened their garages so attendees could seek shelter. Lenox’s account of the weather was the following.
“When I use the word ‘insane’ to describe the first day of scales action at the 44th Annual White Marlin Open I don’t mean it in the big fish, lots of fish, awesome action kind of way. I mean it in its literal sense. It was a run for cover, Noah’s Ark rain, hold on to your a$$ with both hands kind of insane,” he wrote on his daily blog. “At around 6 p.m., during our live broadcast coverage of the tournament, a small tornado or powerful microburst landed at Harbour Island and had us all running for our vehicles. I was under the big T-shirt tent when it happened and it honestly felt like it was going to fly away. The wind lasted for several minutes and at the end of it there was some pretty significant damage at Harbour Island. The porta potties were blown over and 10 feet from where they were set up, tent stakes for a 50-foot x 50-foot tent were pulled from the ground and from what I hear the small shed on the fuel dock at Harbour Island was blown off of the dock and destroyed.”
Fortunately, the only real news out of the storm was some minor property damage from wind and fallen trees.