Tent City Residents Not Evicted; Agreement Would Provide Temporary Housing
Before residents of Lakewood’s Tent City must leave the woods, they will be given housing for at least a year according to a principle agreement reached Friday.
The consent order was issued by Superior Court Judge Joseph Foster after almost two hours of discussions in chambers. However it is still far from final, both the residents of Tent City and Lakewood Township officials must still agree to it.
If ratified the deal would not only bring an end to the infamous Tent City, which has sat in township woods off Cedar Bridge Road in Lakewood—not far from the Blue Claws Stadium—for seven years, but also end a debate over the local government’s responsibility to care for the poor.
“The people will have an opportunity to get out of the woods, not have to spend the next winter there and have a plan for and actually provides at least one year of safe and adequate indoor housing.” Says Jeffery Wild, attorney for the homeless residents.
Wild says getting people out of the woods has been the goal since day one.
“We never wanted to fight for tent cities, tent cities are an abomination. We shouldn’t have them in this day and age.”
The principle agreement is the closest both parties have been to reaching a compromise. Earlier this year, Lakewood threatened daily fines of $1,000 for each of the site's 100 tents and 80 wood burning stoves. They cited health and sanitary issues at the site, as well as complaints from nearby residents. Lakewood's mayor called conditions there "disgusting" and "horrendous."
Many details are still unreleased, including in what form the housing will be offered. Tent City leader Minister Stephen Brigham has advocated building a permanent structure to reintegrate the homeless. Other options include constructing a government built shelter, converting an existing building, or utilizing housing through rental assistance programs. What constitutes appropriate housing, Tent City or local officials, is also to be determined.
There is no timetable set up for providing housing for the Tent City residents, however Wild says “there is no reason quickly if all parties including the county cooperate.”
Friday’s agreement only involves Tent City and the Township of Lakewood, and does include Ocean County and the Atlantic City Rescue Mission- two parties which entered into debate as well. Arguments against the county state it is their responsibility to provide shelter. A judge will hear a motion by the county to dismiss the case in May, if a trial is needed it will slated for August 19th.