The Democrat running for New Jersey governor toured a homeless encampment near the Jersey shore on Thursday, where she criticized Gov. Chris Christie's handling of economic issues affecting the poor and promised tent city residents she would not forget them if she becomes governor.

"I'm not just going to fall in love with running for another office and forget about you," said Sen. Barbara Buono, taking an obvious jab at Christie, who is considered a strong contender for the 2016 Republican nomination for president.

Lakewood's Tent City (Facebook)

Buono, who is challenging Christie in November, spent more than an hour at the wooded encampment off Route 9 where about 80 people live in tents. As she chatted with residents, pet their dogs and listened over the crowing of chickens, she learned that some wound up in the encampment after being laid off from good-paying jobs and being unable to find another job before their unemployment benefits ran out.

Afterward, she said Christie -- who toured a tent city in Camden as a gubernatorial candidate four years ago -- has abandoned his promises to provide better job training, affordable housing and more social services for the homeless and poor.

"We need to have affordable housing. We need to have jobs where people can actually afford the cost of housing," Buono said. "The focus has not been there."

Christie's office disputed Buono's assertions, saying that in this year's budget the governor has kept funding stable for key programs and services. The office cited $18.5 million for rental assistance, $4.4 million for a program that helps residents in imminent danger of eviction or foreclosure and $195 million for programs ranging from food stamps and job training to transitional housing.

Residents of the encampment agreed with Lakewood officials in April on a plan to move and shut down the 7-year-old camp after they find homes. But Steven Brigham, a resident who acts as the camp's unofficial spokesman, said only three people so far have been able to find alternate housing.

He said some are so-called "gap people," those who work part- or full-time at low-wage jobs, earning too much to qualify for assistance but too little to live independently in rental or residential housing. He said far too little affordable housing is being built.

Buono, who trails Christie by 20 points, according to a recent poll, promised to return to the camp if she is elected governor and to work with activists to reduce homelessness.

 

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)