Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Saving AC from its neighbors

Gov. Chris Christie has assigned the Department of Health and Human Serviced to bring southern counties together to keep Atlantic City from being a dumping ground for the homeless.

He said last week that
“Essentially, what Atlantic County is telling me is, ‘Why should we be responsible for other places’ homeless?’ Atlantic City, in particular, cannot be a place where all the homeless are being sent,” he said. “It’s not fair, and it’s not right. Atlantic City is trying to revitalize, and some of the homeless are contributing to the crime in Atlantic City.”
Bill Southrey told during a visit to the Atlantic City Rescue Mission last month that the 270-bed shelter is almost always nearly full, and that many of those seeking shelter are from outside the area. Other southern counties, along with Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania suburbs, rid themselves of their homeless populations by placing them on buses and shipping them east. These tend to be the homeless in most need of services and many end up causing trouble in AC.

A tourist couple was murdered in June by a homeless man and others homeless people have been involved in criminal activity.

The bad press has the people who run the city worried -- and by run the city I mean not just the elected government but the casinos. This concern has caught the governor's attention, which may result in some changes.

The big question: What kind of changes? It is not enough to move the homeless to a new location. The short-term solution is to find housing for the homeless and make sure there are support services in place to help them remain housed.

Deeper changes need to happen, however, if we are not to create a revolving door of homeless individuals. The problem is endemic to corporate capitalism, which chews up resources -- whether they be petroleum, water or people -- and asks society to clean up the mess. That means we either need to reform capitalism or move to an economic system that takes the social good into account and makes the impact on people and the environment paramount in all decisions.

If that sounds like socialism or social democracy, so be it. Our religious devotion to markets has never made a lot of sense, given that free markets are far from free. Government has always imposed rules on the flow of goods and money; the current rules have been written by and for corporations, allowing them to privatize their gains while socializing their losses, whether it be pushing the cost of addressing homelessness, pollution or the financial meltdown onto taxpayers. This distorts the the calculus used to gauge costs and benefits, inflating profits, protecting shareholders and board members and leaving the rest of us holding the bag.

The Atlantic City Rescue Mission needs both help and protection, but that can only be a first step. Addressing the failure of corporate capitalism must be part of the solution.

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