Lakewood to Clear Homeless from Camp


2-6-2009-11-13-34-am-7735192The Lakewood Township Committee last night announced the allocation of $50,000 of federal money to clear the woods of homeless squatters and try to place them in existing rehabilitation and housing programs. However, the committee set no timetable for completion of the plan. The grant is to be given to the nonprofit housing agency STEPS, or Solutions To End Poverty Soon, which will run the Homeless Intervention Program.

“What we intend to cover does not go over any other programs already available,” said Charles Anthony, the program’s director. “We intend to draw them all together.”

Its first act was counting and interviewing the homeless population Jan. 28.

Mayor Bob Singer requested STEPS first seek out those people among the about 40 homeless living in the camps who are eligible for permanent subsidized housing, including Section 8, and apartments run by the housing authority for seniors and the disabled.

The initiative comes on the heels of Sunday’s fatal fire in one of the homeless camps off Route 88. Police have said a propane tank inside the tent of the victim, Jimmy Wilcox, could have been the cause.

Steve Brigham, a local minister who has supplied many of those tanks for cooking and warmth, spoke emotionally before the committee last night about how his friend Wilcox had been advocating for a homeless shelter nine years ago.

“But we didn’t listen to Jimmy,” he said. Meanwhile, “that propane has saved a lot of people.”

Committeeman Meir Lichtenstein, however, expressed concerns that the STEPS plan was not acting fast enough.

“I’m not sure what steps we take to make sure this (a fire) doesn’t happen next week, or tonight,” he said.

Singer said there would be no time frame, but stressed, “This is not open-ended. At some point, there will not be a tent city in Lakewood.”

At the meeting, several members of the public spoke for and against removing the squatters. Some people commented on how clean and communal the primary camp off Cedar Bridge Avenue is.

“Pastor Steve (Brigham) runs a very tight ship out there,” said Charles Gianakos, who heads Passionworks Inc., a Lakewood-focused humanitarian group. “I’ve watched a community work together to chop wood, provide security, embrace each other when times are hard.”

Singer reminded residents that the township is resisting the approach taken by Ocean County, which recently got a court order and cleared out a camp on county land.

“We didn’t do that because we want to work with you,” Singer said.

{APP-Zach Patberg/ Newscenter}