OCEAN CITY – Homeless individuals and weekend visitors sleeping in public areas in and around the resort highlighted this week’s meeting of the Ocean City Police Commission.
On Wednesday, officials with the resort’s public works department came before the Ocean City Police Commission to highlight the growing number of homeless individuals sleeping at transit facilities and weekend visitors sleeping in the Inlet parking lot and along the beach.
“We have an issue, as you are probably already aware of, and we wanted to just remind the group as we head into the fall and plan for next summer what we face,” said Public Works Director Hal Adkins.
By way of background, a concerted effort to address the homeless population in Worcester County began last year, as homelessness on the Ocean City Boardwalk – particularly in the area of the Caroline Street comfort station – started to gain the attention of residents, visitors, resort agencies and media outlets.
To that end, the Worcester County Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) – comprised of partnerships among the Worcester County Health Department, Local Behavioral Health Authority, Local Management Board, Department of Social Services, Ocean City Police Department (OCPD), Diakonia, Ocean City Crisis Coalition, and Atlantic General Hospital – was created.
“We started this project and, quite frankly, it’s been quite successful for us …,” OCPD Lt. Dennis Eade told the commission this week. “It’s a work in progress … but we are making huge strides.”
Eade said HOT members have assisted 24 of the 40 identified homeless individuals into housing so far, and resort officials noted improvements in and around the Caroline Street comfort station.
But as an unattended consequence, they noted many of those that remain have been displaced to other public areas of the resort.
“Now they’ve moved over to the bus station and some of those places,” OCPD Chief Ross Buzzuro said.
Adkins told the commission the number of homeless individuals sleeping at transit facilities – most notably the north- and south-end transit centers, the Park-N-Ride and the south-end tram station – had gotten worse over the summer, generating negative comments from transit users.
“I don’t want any of my guys trying to move individuals along,” he said. “I’m afraid something may happen. We lean on the police commission and the police department for additional help.”
Eade encouraged the public works department to inform the police department of any issues, but noted some of the challenges of dealing with homeless individuals.
“Minus any criminal violation or activity, it’s not illegal to be homeless,” he said.
“It’s an eye sore, it’s a social blight,” he said. “But being homeless doesn’t necessarily equate to criminal behavior. We have to take that into perspective.”
Adkins on Wednesday also shared with the commission his concerns regarding weekend visitors who park their cars and sleep in public areas in and around the Inlet parking lot.
“A lot of them show up Friday night or Saturday morning and their car doesn’t leave until Sunday night …,” he said. “They are sleeping somewhere, but they are sleeping on the beach, they are sleeping in hammocks under the pier.”
Eade noted the issue was relatively common during the later months of the summer season. He explained that many day-trippers from surrounding areas arrive in Ocean City during the early morning hours and sleep in their cars or on the beach.
“When we wake up, the sun comes up and everybody goes to work, we see hammocks hanging, we see people sleeping on the beach …,” he said.
Public works officials also highlighted the dangers of sleeping on the beach, particularly when crews make their way to the south end of the beach with cleaning equipment.
“It enhances the potential for our beach tractor to have a conflict,” Adkins said.
Eade noted the town’s ordinance prohibits sleeping on the beach at night and encouraged the public works department to alert the police.
“We’ll get them off the beach,” he said.
Adkins said he simply wanted to elevate his concerns to the police commission.
“If it continues at this pace, the public perception and negativity may escalate to the level of the full Mayor and Council,” he said.