When I was a kid growing up in New Jersey,

the Admiral Wilson Boulevard (the road that links the Ben Franklin Bridge to South Jersey) was synonymous with all that was wrong with Camden. 

In my dad’s childhood, it had been the premier shopping destination in South Jersey, but by the 1970s and ’80s, it was full of porn palaces sporting “Big Rig Parking in Rear” signs, and many, many liquor stores. There were also rent-by-the-hour motels, most famously (or infamously?) portrayed in a 1988 Mark Harmon film, Stealing Home. Harmon’s character, a failed baseball player, is revealed living in one, demonstrating how far he’s fallen from his days in the majors.

Former governor Christine Todd Whitman, in preparation for the 2000 Republican convention in Philly, did what many people thought was impossible—she cleaned up the Admiral Wilson. Gone were the nudie shows & all-night liquor stores. No more was it populated with gas stations that got knocked over about once an hour at night. The decrepit Sears building stayed, but it was somehow more noble looking, as an empty classic structure, than when it was surrounded by burning cars. 

The state took over a bunch of land through eminent domain, and built a big walking park there. It floods on a fairly regular basis, due to its proximity to the Cooper River (and the trillion-gallon aquifer that Camden County sits atop), but it’s become a much more pleasant place in recent years. 

Even though I recently moved to Philly, I’m still spending a fair amount of time in New Jersey at what was once my house. And recently, I had occasion to drive there during daylight hours. 

I’m sorry to report that, despite a lack of non-PLCB booze, the Admiral Wilson is again revealing Camden’s shame. There is a homeless encampment—a big one—on the north side of the road. I counted at least ten tents. I can’t imagine that a city that has been so raked over by bad government & worse corporate allies (can you say “credit swaps” ten times fast?) has a decent ability to serve its most vulnerable residents.

It just isn’t right that in the richest country in the world people should have to sleep on the side of a major highway. But I doubt that we can count on Governor Christie to swing to the rescue.