Lakewood’s Tent City Residents Could Be Fined for Burning Wood Outdoors – Would Fining Them Help?
Here’s a question.
Theoretically if you don’t have any money and you commit an offense that carries a fine – how then are you supposed to be expected to pay that fine?
That’s what might be going through the minds of the residents of Lakewood’s Tent City since, come Monday, if they’re found using campfires fueled by wood to stay warm, they will be ticketed and fined.
Like I say, you can’t draw blood out of a rock.
With nighttime temperatures predicted to drop to near 20 degrees this weekend, township police said they will start giving tickets to anyone using an open fire outside for warmth come Monday.
The township ordinance that bans burning wood outdoors will affect the 80 to 100 people living at a homeless encampment off Cedar Bridge Avenue known as Tent City.
Police have been giving warnings so far and making the campers douse their fires. But come Monday, police will issue a ticket and a fine, authorities said. On Wednesday, it was unclear how much the fines will be.
“This is a disgrace, and in violation of the law that requires government to provide emergency shelter to those who need it,” said Jeffrey J. Wild, an attorney representing about 80 of the homeless people at the encampment in a lawsuit against Lakewood and Ocean County.
The campers are fighting in court for the right to stay in Tent City until suitable housing or shelter can be found for them.
Captain Gregory Meyer of the Lakewood police said officers check the encampment daily or whenever someone complains about a smoke condition from the burning wood. Police also respond if there is a first aid call in the camp, he said.
The ordinance bans using wood burning stoves outdoors but does not ban wood being burned in indoor fireplaces.
“There is a safety factor,” Meyer said, regarding the need to enforce outdoor fire codes.
“When we respond to a complaint and encounter an open wooden burn or wood burning stove inside a tent, we ask them to extinguish those,” Meyer said. Police stay at the site until the fire is put out, he said.
Campers are not banned from using propane heaters, Meyer said.
Tent City has been a thorn in the side of township officials and residents alike; and while there’s a workable solution for some kind of permanent housing still to be worked out, the residents there are given little choice but to warm themselves by a wood burning campfire.
Or risk the fine, possibly not pay it, and get to spend some time in a warm jail cell.
Not optimum, but it sure beats the cold!