Lakewood Moves to Close Homeless Encampment

Lakewood, N.J. (AP) -

Officials in Lakewood are taking steps to dismantle an encampment of homeless people. Summonses were recently issued to the leaders of Tent City, an encampment in the woods of Lakewood where about 80 people now live.

Steve Brigham, who founded the encampment in Ocean County and works with its homeless residents, tells the Asbury Park Press that authorities initially told him they would impose daily fines of $1,000 for each of the site’s 100 tents and 80 wood-burning stoves.

But authorities have now informed Brigham they will come in Wednesday and disassemble the camp if the tents have not been taken down. The cost for that work will be passed along to Brigham and other camp leaders.

Township officials confirmed the notices were sent. They cited health and sanitary issues at the site, as well as complaints from residents whose homes are near the encampment.

“I was in Tent City and it was disgusting — horrendous living conditions,” Mayor Albert Akerman told the newspaper. “Something has to be done.”

Brigham says camp leaders will challenge the summonses, which he says are part of the township’s increasing harassment of the encampment. Brigham also claims the summonses violate a court order that bars camp residents from being moved unless alternative living arrangements are in place.

“They want us to pay … to have a tent here,” Brigham said. “But they have nowhere for us to go.”

Township Committeeman Raymond Coles told the newspaper that Brigham has not abided by the agreement and continues to recruit new residents.

Brigham hopes camp residents will be relocated to a commune-like setting on the water, where they can get help and tools to sustain themselves while learning skills that would help them gain employment.

Coles said he prefers the homeless be placed in a housing unit.