The Town of Ocean City’s reaction to the growing downtown homeless problem was slow in coming but some of the quick fixes approved this week should help in the short term.
The idea behind these changes is to make the individuals more uncomfortable, restrict the locations they can “live” and hopefully encourage them to seek shelter elsewhere.
The sight of homeless people converging in nooks at the Caroline Street comfort station on the Boardwalk as well as the downtown transit center has been common for the last few years. In recent weeks, several individuals have been spending their days and nights around the white marlin statue at N. Division Street. It’s an unsightly image greeting motorists as they come into Ocean City, but the homeless numbers appear, at least anecdotally, to be trending up.
The approved changes include adding arm rests to the Boardwalk chairs to prevent individuals from continuing to use them as beds; crafting an ordinance banning sleeping on the Boardwalk as well as in parks, bus stops, bus stations and all city properties; and about $17,258 in physical changes, like enhanced lighting and restricting spaces, to the downtown comfort station to prevent continual trespassing.
All of these changes are needed because there’s no easy fix to Ocean City’s homeless woes in the downtown area. The only non-starter is to continue to do nothing. That’s essentially what the city has been doing in recent years. Attempts have been made evidently to communicate with the homeless individuals and to offer them guidance to get them back on their feet. The majority of the individuals simply do not want help and clearly have substance abuse and mental health issues that have exacerbated their ineptitude.
The Boardwalk is one of Ocean City’s crown jewels. This week’s approved changes are a step in the right direction to crack down on these homeless individuals. Unfortunately, it’s likely to continue to be a problem in the weeks, months and years ahead.
These folks will adapt and relocate to other areas. The problem is they will be seen by hundreds of thousands of people and it gives a negative impression. Ocean City prides itself, and rightfully so, on being a clean and safe vacation destination. History has shown us these individuals are disruptive to that goal.
There will likely be more changes necessary in the future. All Ocean City officials can do is react accordingly and take an aggressive stand against continual loitering that paints Ocean City in a unfavorable light as well as prosecuting the individuals when they do inevitably run afoul of the law.