Tent City Movement Launches Petition Drive Monday in Trenton
Fearing a widening economic gap that would engulf families once considered middle class in the ranks of New Jersey's homeless population, members of the Tent City Movement are bringing their bid for a solution to the steps of the Statehouse in Trenton.
They'll begin circulating petitions to generate support for a solution that might be considered Utopian, but which they think is within reach - land in which homeless dwellers would live modestly in simple structures while, with the help of volunteers, using their skills to return to self-sufficiency.
Their goal is to serve the petitions to legislators and decision-makers on the state, county and local levels throughout New Jersey.
The concept has long been espoused by Lakewood Tent City founder Stephen Brigham, who was never able to generate the kind of support needed to generate meaningful discussion or action.
Sherry Rubel, a Middlesex County advocate who acknowledges her own struggle to meet rising costs that left her without a roof over her head, believes that arguments for shelters are well-meaning but misplaced. A cot for a night, she said, doesn't solve anything. Her best-case scenario to be able to tell Social Services, "Thanks, we don't need any."
"If we have land, we can do the rest," Rubel said. "We have volunteers, we have people who will help with very little taxpayer dollars and non-governmental assistance."
Rubel voiced concern over stalled wages and ever-escalating costs of living that leave even middle-class wage earners ineligible for social programs but unable to afford living space.
"They're not eligible for food stamps, they're not eligible for Medicaid, they're not eligible for certain services," Rubel said. "And then, if you become homeless, there's no housing."
But what municipality or county would create space for such a community? "We believe that there's land in a variety of counties that's not being utilized," Rubel said. "What we're hoping for is that somebody will see the cause and the need...and perhaps donate it to a charitable organization or a non-profit...and-or, we have to try to raise the money for land through a non-profit."
Independently of the movement and the drive, Catholics and Friends with a Heart for the Homeless have used donations to build a sample micro-home, currently in the yard of a Point Pleasant home, which they hope to place on display in Ocean County. It's the type of housing that Tent City Movement organizers view favorably in their concept, though they believe that any type of housing is better than none.