Buono Takes Sobering Look at Lakewood Tent City
Vowing not to forget New Jersey's downtrodden, state Senator Barbara Buono (D-18) met denizens of Lakewood's Tent City face to face Thursday in a derivative step on her campaign trail to become the state's next governor.
She described her visit as striking. "I could relate to their stories, and how easy, how quick - in the blink of an eye - that you could become homeless," she said. "The stories are varied but all the same."
From former New York executives with six-figure incomes to itinerant workers who simply ran into closed doors when his unemployment benefits expired, Buono described a scene of people with self-worth despite the lack of means.
"It was sad on one level," she mused, "and on another level, people were so thankful that they had somewhere that they could call home. In that sense, it was hopeful."
The struggle to resolve the issues of public-land encroachment, public safety, and sheltering has led to an agreement by township officials to find quarters for the roughly 80 tent-dwellers to occupy, in exchange for dismantling the enclave altogether.
Buono related that the documentary "Destiny's Bridge," which recently was shown for the first time at Two Rivers Theater in Red Bank, spurred her to see conditions first-hand. She recalled Governor Christie's visit to a similar enclave in Camden during his first campaign four years ago.
"He had...decried the plight of Tent City and he vowed to do something," she continued. "He was elected to office, and the promises evaporated."
"This is not a campaign stop for me," Buono declared, accusing Christie of being too focused on a Presidential run in 2016 to look back at jobs undone in the Garden State. "Somebody has to stand up for people in New Jersey who are in an impossible situation."
The Senator acknowledged Tent City's chief organizer Stephen Brigham's goal of returning people to productive lives as well as to adequate housing, and considered how it could be reached from the Governor's desk.
"My priority would be to rebuild our economy by investing in our workers," she said. "We need to invest in affordable ways to retrain people for the new jobs that are in demand. We need to ensure that we have a living wage."
A bill that would have increased New Jersey's minimum wage and tied it to cost-of-living adjustments was never enacted. At the same time, Buono contends, large corporate tax breaks amounting to $2,100,000,000 "did not create the quality or quantity of jobs that were promised...We now have the dubious distinction of being one of the 10 worst states to do business in."
What struck Buono most vividly, she remarked, was the sense of community under the plastic and canvas overhangs. "This is like no homeless shelter I've ever seen. This is like a neighborhood. People take great pride in having some place that they can call home, and it means a lot to them."