WATCH NOW: Atlantic City Police Dismantle Homeless Encampment Under Playground Pier | Local News

ATLANTIC CITY — Bill Butler, who is homeless, was awake at 7 a.m. Monday when he and about 20 other people were abruptly visited by city officials and told to leave an encampment they had set up under Caesars playground pier.

Butler and around 20-25 squatters were escorted from the spot, first discovered under the pier last week, where many homeless people were staying.

Most of the walk was quiet as camp homeless people carried various items stuffed into duffel bags and milk crates, some carrying their items on the walk by hand, in a stroller or cart.

One woman even had a dog living with her under the pier. The animal was captured by Atlantic County Animal Control.

Butler, a Philadelphia native, said he developed a drug addiction after he was injured while working as a commercial truck driver. This drug addiction led him to end up on the streets. He said the hardest part of being under the pier is “trying to survive”, but he is willing to get help.

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“It’s not easy at all,” Butler said as he packed up to move, having lived under the pier for more than a year.

The partners of the entities involved in the sweep united last week after hearing about the camp. Around 30 to 40 people are believed to have lived there, said Vinnie Kirkland, AtlantiCare’s case manager and community projects coordinator.

Mike B., a Middlesex County native who declined to give his full surname, said last week that teams were coming to escort people and dismantle the camp.

“They waited for the cops to show up and then started cleaning up,” said the new father of a Sunday-born baby girl.

The city government was aware the sweep was taking place on Monday, city spokesman Andrew Kramer said.

“A situation like this poses extreme health, safety and security concerns not only for those below the pier, but also for those nearby,” Mayor Marty Small’s office said in a statement. Monday afternoon. “As soon as the city was made aware of the situation, we acted.”

People living under the pier were told last week that they would have to leave, and Monday’s sweep was a final check to make sure people were leaving and to help anyone still there pack their bags, a said Kramer.

A cleanup team has been assembled between the city police, AtlantiCare, Volunteers of America, Jewish Family Services and the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority.

Some homeless people were still hauling their belongings under the pier around 9 a.m. as cleaning crews entered with bin bags and flashlights.

Below, crews worked to clear the camp nestled in the sand of the town beach and woven between the concrete supports of the pier, going as far back as possible to where the boardwalk and pier meet.

Some of the people living there had pitched tents, while others used cardboard for the floor or a bed.

“It’s not a healthy environment to live in,” Kirkland said, adding that out-of-county people found under the pier will be sent to their home county for help.

Sections of the pier’s undercarriage are fitted with metal fencing, but pieces of it have been broken down for holes, allowing people access to the western section of the structure. Crew members brought in pieces of plywood, dropping them from an upper balcony onto the sand, to use to fill in the gaps.

Across the pier, an entirely different team was setting the stage for when Phish and TidalWave Music Festival welcome thousands to the city this weekend and next.

Volunteers of America has been conducting homeless outreach in the city since 2015, as part of its Impact program, said Amanda Leese, senior vice president of Volunteers of America Delaware Valley, who was helping clean up the camp on Monday.

The group, Leese said, has heard that the number of people living in the camp under the pier could exceed 40. She’s no stranger to roaming homeless camps around the state, arming herself with gloves rubber and a mask to help move residents and their belongings. and get them into programs, she said.

“It’s very frustrating because talking to a few people down there, they want to go somewhere that’s clean, safe, and where they can get services,” Leese said, adding that she’s done outreach to human trafficking under the pier in previous years. . “At the moment we don’t have that in the city where they can stay 24/7.”

State data from 2020 indicates that approximately 1,493 people in New Jersey identify as chronically homeless. Many homeless experts and advocates agree that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the situation.

The poverty rate in Atlantic City is 35.2%, more than triple the national poverty rate of 11.4%, according to data from the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey in 2020.

Many homeless people are simply looking for help to start a stable life, Leese said.

For Mike B., he plans to leave Boardwalk Pier for drug rehab to deal with his substance abuse issues he’s had since he was 15, after being hit by a car. He will then enter Christian rehab, he said.

“It’s an eye opener,” Mike B. said of the homeless sweep. “Now you have nowhere to sleep. It might force you to make a better decision in your life.”

ATLANTIC CITY — City police dismantled a homeless encampment under the Playground Pier early Monday morning.

About 30 people lived under The Boardwalk.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Harold B. McConnell