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Judge: Tent City Can Stay Open — For Now

Tent City hearing 1/6/12
Attorney jeffery wild speaks during the motion hearing. (Ilya Hemlin, Townsquare Media NJ)

The residents of Lakewood’s Tent City will be able to stay where they are for now, something that comes as a relief to many of those living in makeshift shelters about a mile from FirstEnergy Park.

Ocean County Superior Court Judge Joseph Foster refused to grant a motion to Lakewood which would evict close to eighty residents of Tent City. However, Foster acknowledged that the dispute between the homeless camp and it’s home town can’t go on forever and that some sort of resolution needs to be reached.

He stated that the government does have some role to play in helping to take care of the very poor, though he acquiesced that while he does not have authority to make any mandates that required Lakewood or the county to provide funding or services. Instead Foster said that what he wants is for both parties to attend a hearing and discuss more of the facts involved as well as present a long term solution for their side of the argument.

COMPARING TENT CITY TO THE OCCUPY MOVEMENT

Lakewood’s attorney Michael DeCicco started the motion hearing comparing the situation with Tent City akin to that of Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Trenton, claiming that the Township was losing control over their own property. Judge Foster contends that DeCicco’s comparison was not entirely appropriate, “there is a history going beyond 2006 where people not only have occupied these sites, but they’ve actually taken up residence there.”

After the motion hearing, Tent City attorney Jeffery Wild agreed that the Plaintiff’s comparison to the Occupy Movement was far from apt.

Ocean County Superior Court Judge Foster Speaks During A Motion Hearing To Evict Residents of Tent City
Ocean County Superior Court Judge Foster Speaks During A Motion Hearing To Evict Residents of Tent City (Ilya Hemlin Townsquare Media)

“I don’t think I saw anyone at Occupy Wall Street who was destitute, living in the woods. I don’t think I saw the kind of people who are frozen to death like people have in Lakewood and in Ocean County before there was a Tent City. “

IDENTIFYING THE PROBLEM

A consent order was signed by Lakewood and included Ocean County which acknowledged that the problem was the lack of emergency shelter. Mediation in that original case is still forthcoming and Jack Sahradnik, the attorney for Ocean County who was in attendance during the motion hearing, says he is hopefully mediation will provide a solution. He does feel that the County cannot be counted on for endless funds.

“So at this stage we are certainly participating in the mediation, with the parties and we’ll see where that leads. I think what you really have is how much funding do you really have, what are the alternatives available, where is the end?”

He adds that the County has set up a Board of Social Services and spent 20 million dollars last year creating programs to aid people who are homeless or in danger of losing their home.

He notes that there is help for those who want it.

“From the standpoint of the county and the board of social services I believe there is a such a series of programs that are provided to people that are in need and are willing to take advantage of it.”

Attorney’s for Tent City claim that many of those programs turn away too many people, and it provides no solution to the problem of homelessness.

“It’s a huge waste of taxpayer dollars right now…the truth is we’re wasting money on the motel rooms where Ocean County is putting up some of the people some of the time for up to 100 dollars a night and not solving any problem.”

Wild has said that he is dubious on the possibility of a hearing requested by Judge Foster, however he says he will also continue with the previously planned mediation.

“First and most importantly we’re going to go to mediation and we’re going to sit around the table and we’re going to have an open mind to any solution that will eliminate the need for litigation. “

However the people most thankful about the Judge’s decisions are the camps residents. Tent City leader Steven Brigham says the fear of eviction is something that worried many them.

“Probably a lot of people would have set up in other places in the woods, by themselves and tried to survive by themselves without the system of Tent City. “

He references the beating of David Ivins, a Wall homeless man whose assault was posted on YouTube.

“There’s security in numbers there’s safety in numbers, so no young people are going to come into Tent City and try to harm the people of Tent City.”

In addition to giving people protection from the harsh elements Brigham says the community Tent City provides is vital.

“We’ve also got the camaraderie, we’ve got people who are in the same situation the same boat and they can relate to each other. They can realize that there are other people who have the same issues that they’re not alone.”

Wild says that no one wants to see anyone living in the woods and that if “the county is being reasonable, and Lakewood is being reasonable, there’s no reason why we can’t solve this problem.”

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