Ocean City Today
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Homeless loiters by Caroline Street draw police focus

By Greg Ellison | May 17, 2018
Courtesy of: Terry McGean Among the changes planned for the Boardwalk by Caroline Street are converting concrete benches outside the bathrooms to architectural enhancements featuring large river rocks embedded in concrete.

(May 18, 2018) Potential solutions for the continual presence of a throng of homeless people who congregate on the Boardwalk by the Caroline Street stage area were discussed during the Police Commission meeting on Monday.

City Engineer Terry McGean said the stage and bathroom facilities at that location have inadvertently provided convenience, comfort and concealment for a group who identify as the “Caroline Street Gang.”

Among the solutions McGean proposed are reconfiguring covered benches by the bathroom comfort station.

“We would form up curbs around the benches and put large river rock embedded in concrete,” he said. “It looks ok and discourages seating.”

Councilman Wayne Hartman suggested the rock be placed at a 45-degree angle to prohibit items being placed in the area.

McGean also proposed adding a mid-arm rest to the 17 benches in the vicinity of Caroline Street and suggested removing them during the offseason.

“Walking through there, I haven’t seen anybody sit there except the people loitering in the restroom,” he said.

City Manager Doug Miller noted the benches include dedication plaques, which would prevent removal, but instead entail relocation.

Mayor Rick Meehan noted the benches outside the comfort station were installed to provide a shaded spot.

“The general public is limited in most cases from being able to sit there because we have the same people congregating there all the time,” he said. “It’s being abused, but I hate to see us penalize the majority because of the minority.”

McGean also questioned if the original intent was misguided as sitting next to a bathroom entrance holds little appeal for many.

“I never saw them get used as a shelter the way we intended,” he said.

Other changes McGean proposed included locking gates and temporary barricades on the stage area facing the beach.

“Establish a sense of ownership and point out the stage is off limits unless there’s an event,” he said.

Interim State’s Attorney Bill McDermott noted the proposals address symptoms, but fail to offer a cure.

“My belief is you guys may cure what ails you at Caroline Street, [but] you’re just going to drive them to another comfort station,” he said. “This is a far greater problem then fixing some benches at Caroline Street.”

McDermott noted unlike the ban on sleeping in vehicles, there is not a comparable city ordinance prohibiting snoozing on the Boardwalk.

“The start of this might be a Boardwalk ban on sleeping,” he said. “It’s going to give the police officers an opportunity to have an interaction.”

McDermott said this approach would require a multi-disciplinary approach, including state, local and civilian partners.

“Cities and towns across the country have taken to this as not a solution for homelessness, but as a way to include a multi-disciplinary approach,” he said.

McDermott also said his office has previously prosecuted a number of the homeless group in question, with mixed results.

“Last year we dealt with the ‘Caroline Street Gang,’ which … is essentially a group of homeless people that took to being drunk in public and stealing … from each other,” he said.

“We prosecuted those individuals and we had … some failures because we’re dealing with homeless victims, as well as homeless defendants.”

After McGean mentioned including city parks in the sleeping limitation, Hartman took it one step further.

“It should be inclusive of all city property,” he said.

Improved illumination was another suggestion McGean offered, including increasing lights outside the bathroom from 1,800 to 4,600 lumens and installing floodlights on the stage side to the east.

Meehan suggested eliminating several small nooks surrounding the stage area, which facilitate items being stored away.

Looking at long-term solutions, McGean also proposed rerouting the Boardwalk tram around the east side of the comfort station.

“To get more pedestrians and stuff going on that east side where they are more out of view now,” he said.

In addition to costing roughly $350,000, McGean said the alteration would also involve a change to state law.

“It would be beyond the limits of where I’m allowed to extend the Boardwalk,” he said.

The commission voted to send the short-term recommendations to the city council at its work session the next day.

Hartman also made a suggestion to investigate privatizing the area behind the benches on the west side of the Boardwalk, where adjacent businesses place picnic tables for use by the general public.

Meehan noted that topic involved a larger range of issues.

“That’s a bigger discussion then we’re going to have here today,” he said.

The commission voted 3-1, with Meehan opposed, to have Miller discuss the potential of converting the picnic areas to private ownership with City Solicitor Guy Ayres.

 

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