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Lakewood Takes Control of Tent City

A bulldozer removes tents at Lakewood's Tent City
A bulldozer removes tents at Lakewood’s Tent City (TheLakewoodScoop,com)

Who knows? World peace may actually be possible if an agreement between Lakewood Township and a homeless enclave known as Tent City is any kind of indicator.

In what’s become a dramatic new development, the remaining 29 Tent City residents were asked to leave the site Thursday morning as the township legally regained control of the property where Tent City has occupied for 7 years. More surprisingly, most everybody is happy about the arrangement! With the exception of Tent City resident Alex Libman, the site’s Social Media Manager, who refused to leave the homeless camp and was arrested by police.

Lakewood Deputy Mayor Al Akerman said they didn’t leave the remaining residents out in the heat either, even though they previously refused to cooperate with efforts to place them in housing. “We put up whoever was willing. We put them up either in temporary housing like motels until we could find them permanent housing or they refused housing.”

Attorney Jeff Wild of Roseland-based Lowenstein and Sandler said that he’s thrilled that all of the homeless clients who he represented (Pro bono) and who wanted housing were placed.

“This is an example really of unprecedented cooperation between the government and between private parties to close the Tent City the right way,” said Wild.

He said the Thursday, June 26th closure date was under a court order to which all the parties agreed.

According to Akerman, “the court said that now any local law applies, so we can declare that you can’t trespass on that property. So, if someone moves there now, then we can just tell them that they have to move on.”

Tent City leader, Minister Steve Brigham, is the only one allowed to stay at the site to clear things up until Thursday July 3rd. A joint press conference involving homeless advocates, the homeless, Lakewood Township and Minister Steve Brigham, is planned at the site the day he’s scheduled to leave.

Tent City was set up 7 years ago off Cedar Bridge Avenue as a place to help keep homeless residents living in the woods secure. Donations of tents, sleeping bags, heating and cooking equipment as well as food and cloths helped many of the homeless survive the long winters. Spiritual guidance in the form of a church at the site also helped to comfort those who were displaced, jobless and in despair.

However, the camp drew the ire of area residents and even Tent City residents themselves as the numbers of the homeless enclave grew with hundreds of tents and make-shift shacks and not everyone following community rules to keep order. Inevitably, a few bad actors who were also drawn to the camp, brought their criminal activity, as well as their drug and alcohol addictions with them. There were also several deadly fires as the fabric of tents made contact with heating elements or someone who was impaired simply passed out unaware that materials were making contact with candles, heating or cooking elements.

Akerman said it took a year and a half of hard work, a court agreement and millions of dollars to find housing for residents with the help of groups like STEPS (Solutions to End Poverty Soon), Ocean County Board of Social Service, Veterans Advocates, area Colleges and Universities along with other nonprofits.

When asked, Akerman couldn’t specify exactly how much money it actually cost to resolve Tent City.

“I don’t know, but it’s in the millions. I mean, just tearing down a tent between labor and dumping fees is $300 dollars and every time we’d turn our backs, it would be 10 new tents, so we’d have to tear down. People don’t even realize that you know, we tore down a lot more than 150 tents.”

Akerman and Wild said we can expect to hear more details about the agreement during the press conference at the former Tent City site tentatively being held at 11 a.m.

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