A coalition of advocates for the homeless called on the Toms River township council on Wednesday to either put off a sale of the Red Carpet Inn or turn it into a shelter.
The council ultimately voted unanimously to go forward with the purchase or condemnation of the property, which has spurred 750 police calls over the last two years, but its members said they would be interested in working on the homeless problem in the local area. The building, located on Water Street next to Huddy Park, will likely be torn down as part of a large-scale redevelopment plan for Toms River’s downtown area. It will be replaced by flood basins to protect the business district in storms, as well as mixed-use new development.
Marsha Barnhill, who said she was homeless, abused drugs, and incarcerated over the course of her life, is now a college graduate who works with Haven Ministry, whose members made the bulk of the case for turning the motel into a shelter.
“It’s time for us to stop being anti-homeless and help them gain a purpose in their lives,” Barnhill said. “No one should have to sleep out in the street. We have laws protecting animals, but no laws protecting human beings. Is that not pathetic?”
Rosemary Vogel, a volunteer with nonprofits that serve the homeless population, said the Red Carpet Inn is one of the few places homeless people can stay. Options have gotten fewer since Seaside Heights began cracking down on crime-ridden motels which once housed homeless people. Like Toms River, Seaside Heights condemned one particularly troubled motel and is replacing it with an age-restricted luxury apartment complex.
“I don’t want to see drugs going on in Toms River … but I cannot see the homeless being ignored either,” said Vogel. “If we knock down the Red Carpet, where do I have to go for those few rooms that are large enough to take families that are homeless? The Red Carpet is one hotel that has rooms large enough – the others don’t.”
Robert Shea, of Toms River, a local attorney who owns several buildings in the downtown area, said he and his fellow business owners were in favor of closing the motel and starting to redevelop the area.
“We’ve had the opportunity of discussing this issue countless times over the past four or five years, and the most important goal has always been to do something about the Red Carpet Inn,” Shea said, adding that he has a security camera that has captured untoward activities near the property. “One of the issues that has always been downtown is the Red Carpet Inn, its predecessor and how it was operated.”
“This particular property needs to go,” agreed Alizar Zorojew, executive director of the Downtown Toms River improvement district. “This is a massive domino to fall. If you want to see downtown take off, the hotel has to go.”
Shea said eliminating the motel and redeveloping the downtown area with new businesses, nightlife and other attractions could prove to be an economic boon for the entire area.
“If this is all built down there, instead of our children going to Jersey City and Hoboken, maybe they’ll choose to live here,” he said.
While most who spoke during public hearings on the purchase or condemnation of the building, as well as the allocation of funds for the purchase, were present for the discussion on homelessness, others expressed concerns over the price of the purchase.
The council authorized $4.8 million, but the final price of the project as a whole is yet to be determined. Council President Brian Kubiel said negotiations are currently underway between the township and the motel’s owner. The $4.8 million figure is not just for the purchase of the property, he said, but the flood mitigation work that will take place after the building is gone.
Chris Doyle, owner of Apex United, said the downtown area has a great deal of potential.
“I understand it’s expensive, but you also have to understand the benefits,” Doyle said.”The most important thing is that there’s a vision for this town that is going to put our town where Red Bank is, where Asbury is, and where the better parts of the state are going.”
Ultimately, the seemingly-unending burden on the police department weighed heavily on the council’s decision to move forward with the purchase.
“It’s a place where people know they can get drugs, it always has been,” said Councilman Terrance Turnbach. “This is a message to business owners that you can’t condone crime.”
The discussion on homeless will not end despite the council’s decision to go ahead with the purchase of the building, Councilwoman Maria Maruca said.
“It brought to the forefront of this governing body the reality of the homeless problem we have not only in Toms River, but Ocean County,” she said.