Lakewood, NJ – Residents of the homeless encampment on Cedar Bridge Avenue are once again stirring controversy in the township.
Some residents who live on properties surrounding the site, known as Tent City, are complaining about camp residents cutting down trees, burning campfires that fog roads, and the consumption of drugs and alcohol.
About 90 residents on Wednesday night packed a small room in the township’s municipal building, where Committeeman Meir Lichtenstein listened to their concerns about the homeless camp, where as many as 100 people live.
Residents handed Lichtenstein a petition signed by almost 900 residents asking township officials to expedite the evacuation of the encampment.
“The fires put everyone in danger, both the campers and the nearby residents, as they are not monitored and can easily spread to the areas around,” the petition states.
Lichtenstein was joined at the meeting by Michael DiCicco, the attorney representing the township in a lawsuit filed to evict homeless residents from the camp, which is township property. Committeeman Isaac Akerman also attended. The case is in mediation ordered by Superior Court Judge Joseph L. Foster.
Township officials need to know the “increasingly negative impact that Tent City is having on our neighborhood and our community,” said Samuel Zaks of Ashley Avenue. “We sympathize with people who are genuinely homeless and agree that they have rights and needs, just like we do. However, for everyone’s best interest and safety, the residents of Tent City must be relocated to a real shelter where they can regain their human dignity and receive the genuine help that they need and deserve.”
The township served an eviction notice in June 2010, arguing people living in the encampment are squatters trespassing on municipal property. Advocates for Tent City contend authorities, including the township and county, each named in a counter lawsuit, have failed to address the needs of the homeless.
Initially, Steven Brigham, founder and resident of Tent City, reached an agreement with the township not to take in new campers. Yet the number of homeless at the camp grew, Brigham has said. The camp is filled with poor, mentally ill and chemically addicted people who have turned to the charity of community members who openly support the camp with donations of food, clothing, blankets and resources.
But some nearby residents said they fear for the safety of their children because of Tent City.
The group, led by Zaks, spoke Wednesday night about the problems, the most serious of which is the smoke that permeates their homes and causes breathing problems for their children.
“If Lakewood’s Tent City residents legally cannot be moved now, they should have to comply with the same laws that we Lakewood residents comply with,” Zaks said. “We would like to see the township enforce the laws. If we were found breaking the laws with drugs, alcohol or any open fire and/or another violation, we would be arrested.”
“There should be no difference between the homeless and the homeowner,” he said. “Everyone has to obey the law.”
DiCicco told the group that the judge denied the township’s motion to evict the homeless, saying it is unfair to close down the camp without having a place for the homeless residents to go.
The parties involved in the mediation met Dec. 7 and will meet again by Feb. 27, DiCicco said.
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