By Christie Duffy
Marching up and down Cedar Bridge Avenue, protestors chanted and hoisted signs.
“No war against the poor,” they shouted. “Don’t crush our homes” and “Build a better shelter system.” But behind all the chanting, a bulldozer continues to tear down tents.
“I think if we weren’t here today, they would have ticketed people and harassed people and kicked them out. The only reason they backed off is because they knew people were watching,” said advocate for the homeless Steven J. Brigham.
“They can protest but we’re not changing our minds,” said Lakewood Township Deputy Mayor Albert Akerman.
But Lakewood’s deputy mayor insisted last Friday that the campsite is dangerous and unsustainable.
“We spent several million dollars. When other townships spend that money to catch up to us then we’ll be happy to chip in. But we can’t do everything for everybody here,” Akerman said.
“They could have taken all the legal fees they spent on expensive lawyers and all the money spent on police officers coming down to harass us every day and opened up a shelter,” said Brigham.
After a costly legal battle, the township of Lakewood did agree to help the original residents of tent city. More than 100 homeless were living here over a year ago. And since then, the town has placed three quarters of the homeless into temporary housing, or wrote them a check. But as the town pays to move the homeless out, more continue to come in.
Nancy Vance just moved in this week.
“There is a lot of help for me here. Because if I wouldn’t have came here, I was sleeping in my car for four days,” she said.
She and other tent city residents, like Nancy Weiner, say there is nowhere else for them to turn.
“When you think of all the people who are living in the woods throughout Ocean County who haven’t spoken up, who haven’t been counted, there are probably half-a-thousand homeless people here and there is nowhere for them to go in this county,” Brigham said.
According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, there is only one traditional overnight shelter in Ocean County and advocates tell us it only has four beds.
In response to today’s protest, Ocean County provided this statement: “Ocean County provides comprehensive homeless and homeless prevention services to anyone who meets the eligibility requirements established by state and federal law.”
Adding that the county Board of Social Services is the lead agency helping the homeless. And that anyone in-need should call.
Although organizers want to see a shelter open up here soon, they realize it probably won’t come in time to help any of those living here today.