Proposed legislation to end the practice of “Greyhound Therapy” – where counties/municipalities put their homeless on a bus and send them blindly to Atlantic County- is being considered a positive first step by members of the Atlantic City Rescue Mission, however it’s only the begging of a much larger conversation.

The bill, known as A-2897 was proposed by Assemblymen John Amodeo and Chris Brown because not only were other counties putting homeless individuals onto buses without trying to help them locally, but some counties were doing it without giving any notice or funding to the Atlantic City Mission. In essence “dumping” their homeless problem onto the Mission and in turn, Atlantic City.

If passed the bill would force municipalities and counties to evaluate all homeless residents, and try to provide services within the county first, and sending them only to the closest out of county facility if need be (with a referral).

Currently the Atlantic City Mission is the facility that accepts most of those who end up within the City, President Bill Southrey explains last year they provided services for over three thousand people-roughly a third of which were from other counties.

Tom Davidson, Director of Development, notes one of the problem is that homeless individuals aren’t being sent to them directly, but rather just being sent into Atlantic City and told to go there.

“If they’re sent here it’s under the concept that they’ll notify us first before they come here, so we have some record that they sent it and we have a voucher saying ‘this county has recommended they come here.’ That’s not happening anymore.”

He notes homeless individuals from other counties, and even states, have been showing up at the door of the Atlantic City Mission in steadily rising numbers since the economy first showed signs of downturn. Now the Mission has over a hundred visitors from many southern Jersey counties annual, most of whom show up without referral.

Davidson says he’s an optimist when it comes to believing the reason why so many homeless from other counties make it to the doors of the Atlantic City Mission unannounced.

” It could be apathy, or it could just be as simple as not knowing how to handle it.” He laments.

Southrey, who has been at odds with local officials about the Mission’s policy of accepting all comers believes for the problem to truly to be resolved, you can’t simply give other counties a legal option of passing the buck.

“Unless there is an acknowledgment of a need across the state to really provide services for the homeless on every level they’re always going to be sending them to the places that are available.” Adding, ‘The reality would be is if you address the issues county by county and said “provide something for your community that will help the people, something tangible.”

Davidson believes ultimately it’s about making sure everyone does the “responsible’ and “humane” thing.

“It’s not a perfect system, but neither is the government policy a perfect system if you got ten different entities out there and they don’t really mesh well with each other, let alone a charity.”