OCEAN CITY – A discussion on homelessness highlighted a resort committee meeting this week.
“We continue to work through this stubborn issue,” Ocean City Police Chief Ross Buzzuro told the Police Commission Monday, “but there are limitations.”
An effort to address the homeless population in Worcester County began in 2018, as homelessness on the Boardwalk gained attention.
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, Diakonia, Ocean City Crisis Coalition, and Atlantic General Hospital – was created.
Since that time, HOT members have assisted dozens of identified homeless individuals into housing. Officials have also noted some improvements in and around public areas, most notably the Caroline Street comfort station.
In a report this week, however, Buzzuro noted some of the recent challenges in addressing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic. He explained some partnering agencies have had to redirect efforts or limit resources in response to the outbreak.
“Because of COVID, there have been difficulties,” he said. “At the start of 2020 we were starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel. But there are limitations through the health department and through our HOT network …”
Buzzuro said the police department continues to address homeless individuals who congregate and sleep on public property, most notably the transit centers, tram station and bus shelters. But he told commission members there was little the agency could do without criminal activity or ordinance violations.
Mayor Rick Meehan said the issue highlighted the importance of adding lights to bus shelters and other areas.
“Lighting those up might help solve that problem …,” he said.
Buzzuro added the police department and partners would continue to direct the homeless to local resources.
“Looking forward, as we go into the fall and winter, hopefully we will be able to do more,” he said. “But there are some resources that remain for our homeless population. We continue to present those resources for them to take advantage of. For some, there remains some reluctance. For some, there remains some issues with mental illness.”