The closing of "Tent City" in Lakewood and overcrowding at shelters has prompted the creation of a non-profit organization raising funds to buy land in a town willing to welcome a new encampment for the homeless in Central Jersey.

Photo from Land for the Homeless Facebook page

Kyler Dineen, Executive Director of Land for the Homeless, pointed out that with many homeless being forced to sleep on park benches due to long waiting lists at shelters, it makes sense to provide them with a cheaper living alternative that a tent community can offer.

"There's just such a lack of space for hundreds, and potentially even thousands, of the homeless in New Jersey, that that is something we're looking to alleviate," said Dineen.

The Old Bridge resident said the group has volunteers from several Central Jersey municipalities, including Howell, Freehold, Old Bridge, and Edison. He contended that traditional shelters cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to build, sometimes well over a $One-million in some cases, and cost thousands of dollars on a monthly basis to maintain.

"Tents are cheap, they're well insulated, they can be heated and cooled easily, and most importantly, they're affordable," said Dineen.

A number of homeless encampments already exist across New Jersey, including in woods in Ocean County, according to Dineen.

"They're small. Some of them only have three or four people in them, but they're there," Dineen said. She reiterated legalizing a tent community would provide the homeless with a safe place to do what they already are doing illegally.

Professionals with specific trades, in the areas of carpentry and tiling, have offered to provide free job training the homeless, if the non-profit group is able to get the tent community started, according to Dineen.

He said the group also would partner with other agencies and bring in addiction counselors. "That's the big problem, obviously, to becoming self-sufficient, is having an addiction or dependency on a substance. So, I think the first step to restoring dignity is to give them a place where they can exist legally," added Dineen.

Land for the Homeless has not spoken directly with any municipalities about the idea of creating a tent community at this point, according to Dineen. He noted that building codes in New Jersey are more favorable to allowing tents, then so-called "tiny homes. She said the group is seeking about a quarter of an acre to house up to about 40 homeless individuals. A draft plan of the idea can be found at landforthehomeless.org.

"A lot of people say that they don't want this in their backyard, but the real issue is that the homeless already are in their backyard. You just have to walk a little bit into the woods and you'll find them," Dineen added.