Lakewood Works Towards Tent City Closure
Lakewood continues the process of shutting down its Tent City, with hopes that a time table for a full closure to be established soon.
Earlier this year an Ocean County Superior Court judge signed a consent agreement requiring the camp to be shut down, but only after all of the camps eighty or so residents have found homes.
Lakewood Township Mayor Albert Akerman says social services workers have been provided for residents of the encampment, and already 25 people have been placed in homes and an additional 25 left the camp of their own volition.
Steve Brigham, son of the director of the Lakewood Outreach Ministry that oversees the enclave, offers figures that vary from Akerman's.
"In reality, no more than 10 have left the camp of their own volition," he tells WOBM News, "and actually, only six have transitioned into housing. The impression is that we might be down to about 30 people, but the reality is that there are still about 120 living here."
Brigham points out that the perception of the size of the camp impacts donations of food, clothes and money that support the encampment. Donated items have ranged from a trailer to a portable-generator-powered personal computer. Generators also provide light and hot showers, among other basic amenities.
A meeting will be held September 20th between attorneys for the Township and Tent City to discuss the remaining residents. While all residents are required to be provided with living arrangements before the camp can close down, the judge also stipulated the camp cannot expand and if any resident refuses the health screening they can be kicked out. Akerman expects between thirty and sixty people who still have to leave, noting the amount remaining will determine the timetable for closing down the encampment.
“It’s everyone agrees and it’s down to thirty people, then we’ll have them out in a month or two after that.” Says Akerman.
He points out only residents of Tent City who were counted in a census after the court ruling will qualify for the housing benefits, anyone who illegally settled after that will not.
The plight of Tent City residents has been a constant source of media attention for the Township, and a new documentary on the camp titled Destiny’s Bridge recently premiered in Red Bank. However Akerman is not concerned the makeshift camp will have a lasting negative effect on perceptions of the township.
“We’re hoping people look at us and say ‘wow they took care of a big issue and helped the homeless’, hopefully they’ll look at it in a positive light.”
He notes to prevent any future encampments from forming, Lakewood passed an ordinance prohibiting anyone from camping on public property land for more than two nights without a permit.