Lakewood Tent City Not Being Shut Down This Week [AUDIO]
Just a formality. That's what Lakewood Mayor Al Akerman is calling violations ordering a so-called Tent City to remove all its tents and wood-burning stoves by today.
Mayor Akerman says they never intended to dismantle the tents or fine them up to 2,000 per week, per violation, as the Notice of Unsafe Structure cites.
He says, "We have a court order not to do that and we're law-abiding citizens. We don't do that."
Akerman says the violation notice will help them get the judge presiding over pending litigation, to order a census to find out exactly how many people are living in Tent City.
"Once we have a census we can see who would be eligible for programs with the county. The county is more than willing to help and we'd call in Mike McNeil again with STEPS (Solutions to End Poverty Soon) to see what they can do and then there are private individuals."
"There are people who are willing to help, some very good people out there. I have a meeting with some of the pastors, who are willing to help, some from Toms River, some from Lakewood, a lot of caring people out there. We're hoping we can find something, something that they'll be happy with."
Mayor Cites "Subhuman" Conditions at Tent City
Akerman says he recently went to the encampment off Cedar Bridge Avenue and calls the conditions there sub-human.
"It's horrifying. It's not something that you can walk in there and walk out of without having your heart drop."
He says the wood-burning stoves inside the tents as well as the tents are two of the most egregious violations. He said there are also concerns related to the improper disposal of trash.
Akerman says he's also concerned about the possibility of a larger scale fire.
"We don't have the equipment to get in there and the trucks we borrow from the Township, they're not enough to handle a larger scale fire and it's very very scary."
However, Lakewood leader Minister Steve Brigham says, "It's not about numbers, it's about compassion and he will not turn the homeless who come to him in the middle of the winter away."
There's an estimated 80 people who live in the wooded area off Ceder Bridge Avenue but there are an estimated 100 tents.
Brigham also adds he's not interested in temporary solutions for the homeless. He says "I'm afraid of the bandaid...putting somebody up short term then the people leave. You fragment the people, you fragment the community, you fragment the sense of community and you're not meeting the people's spiritual and emotional needs. He says I'm afraid they will set up the old warehousing of people.
He said many of the encampment residents who were placed by County Social Services earlier have returned. He also says there are people who don't qualify for assistance because they make a little too much money for assistance but not enough for housing. He also says there are convicted felons at Tent City who don't qualify for any assistance.
Brigham also says, "Tent City offers what shelters can not and that's a sense of community, a since of ownership, a piece of the American Pie. He says, electricity doesn't make people happy, running water doesn't make people happy. We have a neighborhood here in Tent City "