Homeless. A frightening, sad word. Where would one go, to whom would one turn, finding oneself in such a situation?
Written by OSNJ/ Volunteer
In Ocean County, there is really no formal answer to this question: then county has no rehabilitation facility where homeless individuals can stay while they try to navigate a complex social-services system, not even a shelter for sleeping. So folks have gone to the informal system—Tent City in Lakewood. In existence since , Tent City is in almost every way a true community—it has had a resident minister for 4 years; it has infrastructure services, though not nearly as many as a “real city”—bathrooms of a sort, a cook tent—people living in Tent City are neighbors in the best sense of the word.
Many in Lakewood who have homes, are employed, and are fully participating members of mainstream society have been upset with Tent City’s existence, and the Lakewood government recently started putting into practice a consent agreement worked out between the government and Tent City residents to close down that community. It was a negotiated agreement: Lakewood is achieving its aim of closing down Tent City, and the residents avoided immediate bulldozing and got—well, assurance of a roof for 12 months. Sounds good, right? Maybe. Then again, maybe not.
As the consent agreement goes into effect, we are seeing the reality of how it is working. A resident is given a voucher for an apartment, which might rent for $800/month (that is the figure for at least one individual). That same resident is given $140 in general assistance and $181 in food stamps. That is it; end of story. Furniture? Utilities? Cleaning supplies? On your own. Your belongings in Tent City? Up to you to move them—yeah, we know you have no car. You’ll think of something. Most important, what will happen when the 12 months is up and $322 will not cover utilities, food, and rent? Well, Lakewood says, not our problem—we were obligated to put a roof over your head for 12 months, ad we did that. Oh, and by the way, Tent City is gone now. Good luck!
So one year from now, will we find newly re-homeless folks who once had a community, including a support system of minister, sanitation facilities, donated food to be cooked communally, and neighbors, instead scattered around the area, disconnected, not knowing where to turn? It seems likely. In whose back yard will they be looking for shelter? And who would blame them if they feel at least a little bit cheated?
Ocean County can, and must, do better.
If you would like to assist these good people as they go through this transition, contact Beat the Streets Ministry at 386/315.0168; Beat the Streets is advocating, along with Occupy Sandy N.J., H.E.L.P., and others, for the construction of a rehabilitation facility—so that what is in our back yard is a resource-filled home where those down on their luck can get a start back up the ladder to a better life; a place of hope and promise, not a group of ragged tents filled with despair. Beat the Streets is teamed up with Ocean County Hunger Relief, a 501 (c)3 organization (phone, 732/505.4357), which is accepting all donations for our movement for a transitional Housing