MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — The homeless population is creating dangerous conditions in this Cape May County municipality, according to officials.

The township says homeless encampments on private property in the Rio Grande section of town are associated with illegal drug use, violent crime, and disrespect for property owners' rights.

In a Thursday press release, the township said it's "using all legal measures within its means to protect the health and welfare" of residents, and blamed criminal-friendly state policies for the uptick in unsanitary and unsafe conditions.

Specifically, Mayor Tim Donohue said a "general anti-police bias," and state actions related to bail reform and decriminalization of certain crimes, have "removed the tools" traditionally used by police to protect the community.

"We recognize the social problems we face and the rights of the homeless to be treated with dignity," Donohue said. "But, while addressing these issues, we must balance our approach to protect the rights of our families to be safe in their own homes and on their own properties."

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According to officials, township employees and partners have visited the encampments to offer help, but individuals regularly reject the assistance offered, such as housing and and social services.

"Refusing a realistic offer ... is not a rational decision and does not translate into a right to remain in an illegal encampment," Donohue said.

New Jersey 101.5 has reached out to the township for comment on what is specifically being done, if anything, to address the issue. As of Monday evening, the township had not responded.

"Certain individuals have been charged with crimes multiple times, have little respect for the law or Middle Township's police officers, and feel immune to any real consequences to their actions," said Middle Township Police Chief Jennifer Pooler. "We will not permit homelessness to be an excuse for criminality and disrespect for our laws, our residents and out business owners."

Officials are calling on county and state lawmakers to address the root causes of homelessness, noting that it's not a Middle Township problem but a national epidemic.

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