Lakewood Tent City Minister Arrested Again, Refutes Claims
The leader of Lakewood's Tent City is facing another set of charges hours after he was released from the Ocean County Jail yesterday. Police confirm Steve Brigham was arrested on criminal mischief and additional witness tampering charges on Wednesday night.
Bingham sees his recent arrest on witness tampering and vandalism charges as the latest salvo by the township and county to get him to leave the camp and to make life increasingly more difficult at the site.
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Minister Brigham says there have been a rash of incidents by the Township that includes the dumping of seven dump-truck loads of wood chips into one of the camps byroads which interrupts vehicle movement into the site.
He says they also towed three registered vehicles belonging to homeless residents in the middle of the night from the site following the establishment of a new ordinance.
Brigham says the charges filed against him are unfounded and were made by a mentally disturbed, drug addicted woman who was angry over his plans to eject her from the camp for violating the community's rules. He says it had nothing to do with retaliation for her police cooperation into a metal theft investigation.
He says "this woman she was not acting properly. She's got mental illness also with some addiction issues and she was just wanting to do whatever she wanted to do and get away with it and you can't have that in any society, even in Tent City." As far as the woman's living arrangements, Brigham says she has mental health issues and can go to the mental health system and get housing that way.
Brigham says "the only rule in Tent City is to respect your neighbor and if you don't respect your neighbor, you're going to have to go. Everybody gets told that when they move into Tent city. He says nobody pays anything to live in Tent City. They get a tent. They get free food free clothing. Of course everything is free in Tent City so when people disrespect the community by causing problems, they've got to go somewhere else."
Brigham says he was not questioned prior to his arrest at 5 p.m. Monday by the Lakewood Police. He says he was not allowed to post bail from the Township lockup and was transferred to the Ocean County Jail and detained for five hours before being released on $11,000's bail just prior to being issued jail cloths at midnight.
Brigham says they have about 75 people living in Tent city and recently helped a couple looking for shelter to set up a tent at the site. He says many of the people set up in housing previously with the help of the nonprofit Lakewood-based STEPS (Solutions To End Poverty Soon) have returned because their housing allowance has run out.
Minister Steve, Homeless Camp Residents and Homeless Advocates are in mediation over a lawsuit with the County and Township over plans to evict them from township owned land. Brigham is hopeful the conclusion of mediation leads to the establishment of a homeless shelter or affordable housing units that can house the people he believes are falling through the cracks of the social service safety net.
Brigham says his 10% bond was posted by a friend.