Seaside Heights approves county homeless shelter on mainland as motels dwindle – Lavallette-Seaside Shorebeat

A demolition crew dismantles the Quality Inn (former Cranbury Inn) in Seaside Heights, NJ on Nov. 3, 2021. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

With the number of motels in Seaside Heights rapidly declining as redevelopment efforts increasingly lead to upscale residential and mixed-use construction, the borough council voted last week to approve a county effort of Ocean to solidify plans to facilitate a homeless shelter on the mainland.

Seaside Heights has long borne the burden of the county’s homelessness problem, with motels used for temporary housing in the absence of formal shelter. The motels were the subject of a notorious exposure in the Star-Ledger in 2014, and a major push behind the creation of a city quality of life task force. Homeless advocates have argued for years that motel accommodation for homeless people is insufficient and that the barrier island location cuts them off from mental health, addictions and long-term housing services. .

Ocean County is the only county in New Jersey that doesn’t have a homeless shelter — something nonprofit organizers and, at times, officials have taken up as a cause for years. A court order prevented the county from moving homeless people to the Atlantic City rescue mission, a previous destination, and authorities are now seeing more people living in the woods and on the streets following the upheaval of the pandemic of coronavirus. But officials are also seeing more community support for the shelter, and say many pieces are in place as soon as a suitable location can be found.

“I think right now there’s more positive interest in doing this than there has been for many years,” Ocean County Commissioner Gary Quinn said. Bobbi Jo [Crea]being on social services, really worked on it, and Ginny [Haines] and I’ve been working on it since we joined the board.

Quinn said he met with local attorney and former Toms River Township councilor Terrance Turnbach – a dedicated and volunteer advocate for the hungry and homeless – on the issue, as well as fellow attorney Paul Hulse. who is a director of Believe Inc., a local nonprofit.

“The county doesn’t want to build it or own it — that’s our biggest problem — but we’ve talked to a lot of nonprofits who would like to do it as partners,” Quinn said. “Finding a location is a problem. We thought we had a location in Jackson two years ago that the county bought for a jail, but we contacted Jackson to see if there was a problem with it, and they didn’t want it built on this piece of property in their town.

Seaside Heights Mayor Anthony Vaz said his city has been engaged with the county for several years. Last week, the borough council voted in favor of a formal resolution supporting the county’s investigation into the establishment of a shelter.

“The county, for some reason, was hesitant, but now they see there’s a problem,” Vaz said. “They see there is a problem not only in our community, but also in other coastal communities that no longer have too many winter rentals.”

Coincidentally, just minutes after the Seaside Heights council meeting on April 20, 2022, a woman approached a Shorebeat reporter near Casino Pier after seeing a press sign on the windshield and asked for help. help finding accommodation. Jennifer, the wife, sat with her son by the entrance to the boardwalk crying, saying her husband suffered from serious mental health issues and the family had just lost the place where they lived.

“They said they couldn’t help today,” the woman replied, after the reporter shared phone numbers for several social service agencies, but she still left additional messages despite the fact that it was after 6 p.m. and the sun would be setting soon. .

The turnaround in Seaside Heights, which is experiencing a flurry of redevelopment after the MTV era, Superstorm Sandy and the boardwalk fire of 2013, is driving motel owners to sell their properties. In a few cases, the borough took action after motels generated high numbers of calls to the police department and were the sites of repeated drug arrests. The environment, officials said, is the opposite of what the homeless local population needs.

“On the island, north or south, it’s difficult to get to the mainland, especially if you can’t afford a car or other services,” said Vaz, a school principal at the retirement. “We recommend a study on the mainland for a facility that would be close to medical providers, schools and vocational training.”

Quinn agreed that the key to a shelter’s success was access to services.

“You don’t necessarily want to put it near an area where there’s a major highway as much as you would want to put it somewhere where people would have the ability to access the services that are provided,” Quinn said.

The Toms River community, in particular, has supported homeless initiatives, and the city government has taken action, including opening heated shelters and supporting non-profit organizations that provide food and other services.

“We’re focusing more on Toms River because Toms River has been extremely supportive of the homelessness issue itself,” Quinn said.

Toms River also has open space, access to bus transportation, and is the location of a future social services building and VA outpatient clinic on Hooper Avenue.

“They’ve been great,” Quinn said. “Toms River is big enough that you can locate it outside of residential areas, which seems to be people’s biggest objection.”

The question may come to light soon, as Quinn and her county colleagues are scheduled to meet with Turnbach and nonprofit leaders who could secure funding to support a housing facility.

“There’s money available there, lots of grants there, and we’re currently spending a few hundred thousand dollars a year to put people up in hotels,” Quinn said. “I definitely feel better now this year than the last three years I’ve been on the board, seeing all the positives.”

“There are a lot of good players involved, so we just have to fine tune a location,” he continued. “Once this is chosen, I don’t think there will be too many problems to get it built.”