New Jersey Tent City Houses 70 Homeless People Who Draw Community Scorn


'Township Should Be Proud' of Tent City

Brigham helps welcome and support newcomers. He supports the community as a whole, seeking donations and services for the needy. He also is the pastor of the tent's chapel, a wood structure that he built.

New Jersey, as with much of the nation, has no right to shelter. For the past year, Tent City Lakewood has been fighting a lawsuit filed by the township and county to evict them from the woods. As part of the pending litigation, Brigham and the community have to take down the chapel and 14 other structures at the camp by next week.

"For somebody to say that you've got to tear down the housing that's going to keep them warm and they don't offer an alternative or an option, it's extremely disheartening," Brigham said.

Lakewood and Ocean County officials did not respond to requests for comment from

Jean Cipriani, a lawyer for the Ocean County Board of Social Services, told, "There is a difference between the government's authority to provide services and their obligation to do so. There are many things that the government must do, but this is not one of them."

Jeffrey Wild and his law firm, Lowenstein Sandler, have been working pro bono to help the community counter the lawsuit. They're fighting for a shelter or affordable housing to be built for those living in the tent city.

"Me and my law firm ... are trying to fight for the right of the people in this tent city and everyone in New Jersey to have a right to shelter when you have nowhere else to go," Wild said. "The court case was brought by Lakewood seeking to forcibly eject everybody living here, even though it is public land."

Experts say that local and state governments are often ill equipped to handle tent cities.

"Most cities aren't really set up to deal with tent camps, in terms of sanitation, clean water, fire and police services, and so there's a lot of pressure on them to shut them down," said Tim Iglesias, a professor at the University of San Francisco who focuses on housing law. "Also, most cities have housing codes, which define what constitutes a habitable dwelling for a human being and tent camps rarely are going to meet that standard or that qualification."

On top of the legal violations, the tent cities make poverty uncomfortably visible to some members of the public, raising fears, sometimes unfounded, about depreciating home values and crime.

"There's the, 'not-in-my-backyard phenomenon,' no one likes to acknowledge that homelessness is a big issue," attorney Wild said.

Berenzweig said the community complained when Berenzweig and her husband first moved to Tent City Lakewood, which is difficult to see from the parkway.

"When we came here, they [Lakewood residents] immediately complained about us in particular," she said. "We were too close to the road and motorists might see us. In other words, to have to see homeless people when you're driving your car is like some horrible thing. It's always something."

Berenzweig said she thinks the tent city should be a source of pride for Ocean County, which has no homeless shelter.

"I would like to see it remain," she said. "I think it fills a need. ... Everybody seems to blend and mesh together pretty well. I think the township should be proud and be helping and be contributing."

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