Howell tent city being cleared — homeless scramble for place to live
HOWELL — The recent heatwave has been rough on Gail, one of the 12 down-on-their-luck individuals who live in tents on a patch of land owned by the township.
But at least she has a place to call home.
That place — a homeless camp along Route 9 South approaching the Lakewood border — will likely belong to someone else in a matter of weeks.
The property was auctioned off for $1.6 million, and it's expected the Township Council will officially accept the bid at its next meeting this month, forcing the camp's inhabitants to pick up and ship off.
"I've gone to social services. They have their own pacing, and so I'm just in limbo," said Gail, who chose not to share her last name. "I have nowhere to go, really. None of us have anywhere to go."
Deputy Mayor Robert Nicastro said the township has always made it clear to the camp and its coordinator, Steve Brigham, that the location would not serve as a long-term solution.
"Howell Township is not in the position to give more land," Nicastro told New Jersey 101.5. "If there were private property owners that wanted to donate land to these people, we could probably have that conversation."
Brigham, who lives in a tiny home on wheels at the entrance of the camp, also ran Tent City in Lakewood before it was shut down in 2014.
He said he feels a responsibility to seek out a viable solution for the camp's inhabitants, but as of now, there's no solid plan B in place.
"You've got to make about $21 an hour in this area to afford the basic necessities of life," Brigham said. "We're trying to figure out ways to move the homeless forward."
Brigham said a number of the camp's residents have jobs, but the pay isn't enough to cover rent for an apartment.
He's hoping to launch a mailbox installation business through which the homeless can earn some extra cash.
According to Brigham, the Lakewood resident who made the highest bid for the property offered to give $1,000 to each of the camp's residents to help them with their transition.
"And the homeless said, 'No, we don't want it. Thanks anyway,'" Brigham said. "The homeless here — they want to work for a living ... They want to carry their weight."
Gail is not working right now. Before acquiring an on-the-books job, she needs to declare bankruptcy, she said.
"People have been telling me it's around $2,000, so I'm trying to find a pro bono lawyer," she said.
Deputy Mayor Nicastro said individuals living at the camp may not be forced to move for a couple months. Residents fear they could be told to leave as soon as July 20.
"We're downsizing on a continual basis, getting ready for the inevitable move," Brigham said.
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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at firstname.lastname@example.org.