EHT Police Address Concerns About Homeless Near Sports Fields
"Quality of Life is Important to us in Egg Harbor Township."
Those are the words of Michael Finnerty, Operations Captain of the Egg Harbor Township Police Department.
As a longtime resident of EHT, I am so impressed by that. I'm grateful to hear one of my town's leaders talk like that.
Within the last week, I've had online conversations with a few people who have daughters who play softball in the youth recreation programs in Egg Harbor Township. The girls' fields are located at Childs-Kirk Park in the "Birdland" section of the township.
The parents were concerned that there have been some incidents near the fields - with parents saying there were homeless living in the woods near the fields. There were social media reports of an overdose on the field, with people sleeping in the dugouts and more.
I took those concerns to the Egg Harbor Township Administration and Police Department and, to their credit, they offered to meet with me and discuss the situation right away.
Tuesday, I sat down with Chief of Police Fred Spano, Captain Finnery, and Lt. Keane from the Police Department. Also in the meeting was Township Administrator Donna Markulic.
All agreed that, yes, as almost everywhere else, homelessness is a problem in Egg Harbor Township. Homelessness goes hand in hand with mental health issues and often substance abuse. It's a problem everywhere, and Captain Finnery says that's a common thread in more than half of the complaints his department responds to.
As far as the problem at Childs-Kirk Park, Chief Spano says when his department was first made away of the homeless in the area two months ago, the state actually broke up a homeless camp in the woods. He says the most recent complaints have mostly involved two people who were staying in the area with friends, but apparently, that friendship ended and the people were pretty much stuck staying in the woods.
Spano did stress that it wasn't an overdose as had been reported in social media, but a medical issue that one person suffered.
All involved stressed that the safety of the girls participating is of utmost concern to all. Chief Spano says these people should not be on the fields and if anyone sees anything threatening or out of the ordinary, they should not hesitate to call the police.
The problem, of course, is that the township is a big place and police can't be everywhere. "If it's happening on our fields, and in our dugout, we will be there", said Spano. "We have zero tolerance for it."
Lt. Keane says the department has regularly scheduled property checks that it does at the parks, and they are certainly aware of the girls' teams playing and practicing in the park. He's dealt with homeless individuals directly, and it's not an easy task.
As Chief Spano pointed out, you just can't lock up the homeless. You can't just give them a ride out of town. If they are committing crimes, they will be cited and moved thru the complaint process.
What they really try to do says Lt. Keane is to get these people some needed help. The department works with the Volunteers of America and other agencies to get referrals for the homeless, but, unfortunately, most refuse the offer of help.
All stressed that quality of life in Egg Harbor Township is important, as is the safety of the kids. Chief Spano reiterated, "If you see something, call us, and we will respond."
It's a different world we live in today. I'm happy and proud to say I live in Egg Harbor Township with a caring group of leaders.