Homeless Tent City Meets Suburbia in Orthodox Town

The vitriol between the two sides increases with each incident and each passing day, as Tent City residents must sleep outside in below-freezing temperatures, without any prospect of a permanent home, income or medical assistance.


Standoff: Lakewood, N.J.’s Orthodox officials and its homeless residents are at odds over the seven-year-old encampment.

Shortly after being sworn in for his first term in January, Lakewood’s mayor, Albert Akerman, visited “Tent City,” an encampment of about 100 homeless people living in a densely wooded area of township land — a rare slice of open space in the fastest-growing municipality in New Jersey.

Akerman, an Orthodox Jew originally from the Boro Park section of Brooklyn, described the encampment as “hazardous” and “subhuman” in a recent interview in his office. “It’s gut-wrenching. You can’t dream up Tent City. It’s horrible. Some of the people living there are comfortable, but a lot of them are not,” he said.

Finding better living conditions for these people has proved to be a fruitless endeavor. Akerman entered office embroiled in a seven-year standoff between township officials and residents of Tent City.

Homelessness is not new to Lakewood, in central New Jersey. In years past, a small number of homeless people lived far back in the woods or by railroad tracks, but they remained largely out of sight from the rest of the community. Then, in 2006, Steve Brigham, a local man who had been donating propane to various homeless sites throughout Ocean County, began pitching tents in an undeveloped area in the woods.

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