This is the old Web-site for the "Dillville" Tent City of Lakewood, NJ. Our camp was bulldozed by the Lakewood Township government in June 2014! This Web-site is preserved for historical reasons.
The encampment of otherwise-homeless people in Lakewood, NJ, known as "Tent City" began in 2005. There was a small number of people living outdoors in areas near what later became the main campsite, when Minister Steven Brigham expanded his involvement around the time that a man who'd been sleeping in his car on the streets of Lakewood died of pneumonia. Minister Steve selected a site for a larger camp on publicly-owned, unused land which was near streams and of low enough elevation that he was able to dig a well which he hooked up to a "hot water heater", other plumbing, and a generator to enable residents to shower as needed. The site was also reasonably close to Lakewood's social service agencies, houses of worship, public transportation, kerosene / gasoline / propane dealers, shopping, hospital and nursing homes, etc.
In earlier years, the Township of Lakewood was relatively tolerant (and even supportive) of the people living in the woods. Over time, the attitude of certain factions of Lakewood hardened and led to outright hostility, and even a campaign which many observers have considered to be unjustifiable harassment. In late 2010, a lawsuit was launched against Minister Steve and the residents of "Tent City", seeking their eviction despite the adamant refusal to provide general, non-coercive shelter to homeless persons - neither by Lakewood nor Ocean County. In December, 2012, a petition with the signatures of approximately 900 (presumably Orthodox Jewish) residents of Lakewood was presented to Lakewood's second consecutive Orthodox Jewish mayor (Albert Ackerman, following Menashe Miller), demanding a crackdown on Tent City, despite the fact that the Ocean County Superior Court had already ruled that the camp and its residents were to be able to do whatever was needed for them to survive the winter. In January, 2013, Minister Steve was served with a stack of summonses/legal papers; fines of $1,000. per day per individual `violation' for each tent, each wood-burning stove, etc. - totalling on the order of $200,000 per day. Town officials sent police to prevent levelling (not paving) of the arc-shaped dirt road leading into and out of the camp; this despite that facts that the eastern half of that arc was at times impassable even to emergency vehicles, and the western entrance/exit had previously been blocked by township agents with huge loads of dumped wood chips. Minister Steve was also told during January that if various conditions were not improved to the satisfaction of the town's officials, the camp would be closed within approximately two weeks (in blatant disregard of the Court). Several days later, the threat was changed to an outright notification that if the residents had not disbanded the camp by Tues 02/05/2013, the town's agents would do so on Wed 02/06/2013. Due largely to diligent and highly competent advocacy by attorney Jeffrey Wild of Wolf/Lowenstein/Sandler, Lakewood officials agreed to not dismantle the camp - at least until the scheduled 03/15/2013 hearing.
On March 15, 2013 - at a hearing held at Ocean County's Superior Court, the township of Lakewood and Tent City's attorney, Mr. Jeffrey Wild of Lowenstein & Sandler, LLP, agreed in principle to stipulate that the township would provide one year of safe and adequate housing to the current residents of the camps in exchange for the camp being closed once every resident without exception was offered such housing. Hopes for a less adversarial situation were soon dashed when, within about 30 minutes of getting back, police drove into the campsite and ordered Minister Steve to move his bus offsite. On or about 04/08/2013, a consent order/agreement was signed by attorney/s for Minister Brigham, numerous residents of the camp, and officials for Lakewood Township. The consent order/agreement stipulates that officials of Lakewood Township will acquire and provide at least one year of safe and adequate housing for all residents of Lakewood's Tent City as of the time of a `census' (which was conducted over a period of time in late spring of 2013) and that the camp would be disbanded when every resident had been given a reasonable opportunity to qualify for and accept such housing. As of early July, 2013 - 3 months after the consent order/agreement was finalized - no more than 4 or 5 residents are known to have actually been placed in housing by officials of Lakewood Township.
A followup hearing was scheduled for May 03, 2013; unfortunately, it was erroneously reported in a widely read article that the camp would close on that date, which undoubtedly contributed to a steep decline in donations of food, clothing, and funds by April & May of 2013. The mistaken impression of many people that the issue had been resolved put at risk the health and safety of the residents, and the possibility that the court/s might issue a ruling requiring Ocean County to provide at least one general population shelter for homeless persons - and/or a ruling affirming a general right to housing.
In or around May of 2013, a small number of Lakewood Township officials, closely-allied with each other and with a constituency hostile to the existence of Tent City and to its residents, passed an ordinance prohibiting `camping' anywhere on publicly-held land in Lakewood; persons are prohibitied from having a tent, other structure, or even a sleeping bag or blanket to protect themselves from the elements - even while sleeping. The same prohibition was extended to private property, except with prior written permission of the owner (which would presumably need to be ready to produce upon request at campsite/s, and which might still be subject to various challenges).
On Friday, 06/21/2013 and Monday 06/24/2013 (and other dates??), township officials sent bulldozers to the camp, where they were used to dramatically destroy a number of tents and other structures. Police continue to have a regular presence at the camp. A small number of people who have been advocates for homeless people are currently working with/on behalf of township officials to expedite placement of residents.