Lakewood Officials Address Tent City and Future Growth
Lakewood Deputy Mayor Steven Langert and Committeeman Ray Coles take on headline generating topics on WOBM-AM's Townsquare Tonight. The duo didn't shy away from talking about their continuing efforts to close down Tent City and find housing for its residents. They also addressed its high density growth plans.
So far there's been no dramatic change to the population in the homeless enclave of over 120 living in a wooded area off Cedar Bridge Avenue. However, Lakewood officials say we should soon see progress.
Committeeman Ray Coles said local anti-poverty group STEPS (Solutions To End Poverty Soon) is working on finding housing. He explained they're trying to put together leases for a half dozen apartments in Lakewood and surrounding communities. "We're looking to see what we can do as far as finding an affordable place with decent access to transportation and also to make sure that the support services that are going to be critical to insure that these people survive and thrive in these locations," he said.
However, they agree there's little they can do for an estimated 60 Tent City residents who refuse help. "Because they're not in their right minds," according to Coles. "I hate to put it like that but there are people out there who don't know how to take care of themselves and unfortunately in this country we can't force them to accept help," he said.
They also addressed a rumor that they want the homeless out so they can build. They say there's no truth to that because the wooded area where the homeless now reside is protected open space set aside during the construction of the Lakewood Blueclaws Stadium.
Lakewood officials also addressed another rumor that they're preparing to double its population by 100,000. Neither Coles nor Langert denied ambitious future growth. In fact, they Langert said "we have been ready with our plan endorsement application for the past three years. We have gotten no movement from the state government on getting our Smart Growth plan passed," he explained.
Officials said they're hoping to accommodate more residents by building up instead of out. They're also expanding mass transit.
Langert and Coles even took on criticism that their plans for growth only accommodate the Orthodox Jewish Community at the expense of low income minorities and the homeless. Coles said "Lakewood is for a lot of different people. The fact that the Orthodox Jewish community has made this the center for their life in the state of New Jersey I think has been a positive thing for the township and as far as the homelessness issue, we're out their trying. If somebody is homeless and they need help, all they need to do is come to us."