Cape May County, New Jersey is known for its beaches, the Atlantic Ocean, fishing, boating, golf courses, the zoo, and a myriad of other leisure venues. Cape May, Avalon, and Stone Harbor are known for their multi-million dollar homes – McMansions, actually – that are second homes to the rich and famous. Ocean City, Sea Isle, and the Wildwoods attract a mix of wealthy and middle class, all pursuing a relaxed escape from the hectic pace of their everyday lives in metropolitan Philadelphia or New York City.
To many, the county is shangri-la, a place to attain nirvana. They associate it with “the good life”.
Unfortunately, year-round residents see past that illusion. They know the ugly truth. Of 42,000 year-round households, over 4,000 families live below the poverty level, which is an embarrassingly-low $22,050 for a family of four. Can you imagine trying to make it on $22,050 per year?
Recently released statistics show that the worst conditions are in Woodbine, where 24% of families live in poverty. Wildwood is next at 20% under the poverty line, with the median income just $30,974. To extrapolate, that means that another 30% of year-round families in Wildwood make between $22,050 and $30,974. Yikes!
Families are also struggling in Wildwood Crest with 11% in poverty, West Cape May with 10%, West Wildwood with 8%, and North Wildwood with 6%.
Here’s another telling statistic. Cape May County had 317 homeless people in 2010. That number includes 54 families totaling 157 people. Another 160 individuals were labeled homeless and nine more were classified chronically homeless, meaning they’ve gone a full year or more without a home.
So where do they all live? Why don’t you see them pushing around a shopping cart with all their possessions, like in Philly or Atlantic City or any big city? The answer is that the NJ Social Services Department uses a half dozen local motels to house the homeless. Since most don’t have a vehicle, driving past one of these motels gives the illusion that the rooms are mostly vacant, but they’re not. Families, couples, and individuals are living in these motel rooms, with little more than a couple beds, a bathroom, microwave, and old TV. But, at least they have heat. Some other families are put up in temporary housing provided by churches. Sadly, some live in the woods, under the Boardwalk, or in dilapidated abandoned homes. These poor folks don’t have heat in the winter, and stay warm by piling on layers of clothes.
It’s a shame, a disgrace, that our country with so much has so many folks with so little. Our government “by the people and for the people” isn’t exactly for all the people. We need to change that. As individuals, we have compassion. But as a nation, we have less compassion than we should. When will we all truly care?
- Mountain Man