Atlantic City Implements BIG Initiative to Address Homelessness

The Boardwalk Improvement Group initiative addresses homelessness, including the removal of encampments, and supports pathways to better lives for affected individuals.

Atlantic City Implements BIG Initiative to Address Homelessness
Mayor Marty Small, Sr. at the podium during the July 1, 2024 news conference announcing the full implementation of the city's Boardwalk Improvement Group. Photo Credit: Edward B. Lea

ATLANTIC CITY The City of Atlantic City on Monday, July 1, 2024 proudly announced the full implementation of the Boardwalk Improvement Group (BIG), a proactive partnership between public and private sectors to address homelessness and other quality of life concerns on the iconic Atlantic City Boardwalk and throughout the city.

Formed under the leadership of Mayor Marty Small, Sr., the BIG initiative has now been fully rolled out. BIG integrates various city departments to provide 24/7 observation, prevention, abatement, cleanup, engagement, and enforcement. Daily inspections of the Boardwalk and beaches are conducted, and a centralized database called ‘See, Click, Fix’ has been created for streamlined information and communication.

Atlantic City Health and Human Services Director Jarrod Barnes shows fencing under the Boardwalk outside Ocean Casino Resort to deter encampments. Photo Credit: Edward B. Lea

“Never before has Atlantic City had a plan of this magnitude to address homelessness,” said Mayor Small. “This issue won't be solved overnight, but we are providing the necessary tools to succeed, and we’re excited to fully launch BIG. We are also working on an ordinance to address individuals sleeping on city property.”

The initiative addresses homelessness, including the removal of encampments, and supports pathways to better lives for affected individuals. It is led by Atlantic City Police Department (ACPD) Sergeant Brian Shapiro and guided by Judge Steven Perskie, policy advisor to Mayor Small. The group comprises members from the ACPD, Atlantic City Office of Emergency Management (OEM), Department of Public Works, Department of Licensing and Inspection, Solicitor’s Office, Information Technology Department, and Health and Human Services Department. Additionally, the NJ Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA) Special Improvement Division (SID), NJ Department of Community Affairs (DCA), Atlantic City Casino Association, Atlanticare, and various social service organizations, including Jewish Family Services, Volunteers of America, Hope One Atlantic County, Angels in Motion, and NJ Rise, are involved. Regular meetings are held to discuss strategies and coordinate efforts.

BIG also tackles issues such as aggressive Boardwalk performers, bicycle violations, public smoking, and open container violations to maintain a clean and safe environment.

Atlantic City Health and Human Services Director Jarrod Barnes shows items found off Brigantine Boulevard, near former homeless encampment. Photo credit: Edward B. Lea

“We’ve united nearly all city departments and external agencies to make a difference, and we’re already seeing results,” said Scott Evans, Atlantic City OEM coordinator. “This collaborative approach ensures the Atlantic City Boardwalk remains one of the safest in the country.”

Atlantic City Chief of Police James Sarkos. said “This initiative is a significant step forward in enhancing the safety and enjoyment of our city’s cherished landmarks. “Our collective effort aims to create a secure and welcoming environment for both residents and visitors.”

“Cleaning under the Boardwalk is a challenging task, but we now have the necessary equipment to do so safely and effectively,” added Ahmid Abdullah, Sr., assistant director of Public Works.

“We assist not only homeless individuals but also those dealing with drug and alcohol problems,” said Jarrod Barnes, director of Health and Human Services. “This initiative is about providing comprehensive support and help.”

Additionally, the city has formed a Homeless Outreach Team, consisting of Director of Community Relations/Social Services Kenneth Mitchem, Drug Prevention and Recovery Specialist Keith Dunn, and Social Workers Joya Banks and Anthony Woodard. Ten Community Service aides have also been appointed to support quality of life improvements, particularly along Atlantic Avenue.

Following the announcement, a bus tour for media and residents showcased hotspots where homeless individuals tend to gather. To report homeless encampments, call 609-347-5437.

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