Monday, April 18, 2011

Residents & Jackson groups clean up winter storm damage in Tent City

Many hands make light work,” said Susan, with a hint of an Irish lilt in her voice.

Susan, a member of the Jackson Women of Today community service group, joined more than 30 people who gathered to clean up the debris from this winter’s storm damage in Lakewood’s Tent City Saturday, April 16th.

Social worker Tracy Boyer (MSW, LSW) and Stephen Brigham, the unofficial leader of the Tent City community, recognized the need for a large-scale cleanup of the area and last Saturday told the Kiwanis Club of Jackson about it. The following afternoon a four-member team examined the site and developed a plan.

Six days later a group of community service volunteers, along with the majority of Tent City residents, joined together in the cleanup effort.

“Working together, we’re dynamite!” said Mario Guerra, a Tent City resident.

Tent City is a roughly two-acre clearing on the east side of the township. Tents and makeshift structures that are wrapped in plastic to protect its residents from the elements line a deeply rutted, single-width dirt lane. A spur branches off for a few dozen feet midway along the lane, hosting more tents.

About 40 people live there.

For many of these people it is the only shelter they can find in a town and county that is experiencing a growing homeless population.

It is also a community in which people, experiencing common difficulties and cultural diversity, gather to help each other.

This past winter, snowstorms made it extra tough on the residents.

A 27-inch snowfall flattened all the tents and drove people into two teepee-like structures, whose steeply pitched walls shed the weight of the snow. It was a devastation that some could not recover from and they abandoned their tents.

Saturday’s clean up removed those destroyed tents and provided the community service groups a chance to assist the homeless in their struggle to survive.

Jo Corbiscello, president of the Jackson Helping Hands Foundation, said her group is interested in helping people in the community and surrounding area achieve a quality standard of living.

“If we all can work together, we can achieve a better environment for our homeless,” she said.

All three of the community service groups that participated in yesterday’s project are members of the “Jackson 501.c.3,” an affiliation of the Jackson’s nonprofit organizations that coordinates their events and assist each other in large-scale projects.

“This is heartwarming to see the homeless chip in and work together with these groups who have given up their Saturday to help,” said Brigham. “It encourages the homeless because it shows there is concern from the community for them.”

The cleanup started at 7 a.m. as the volunteers began clearing away the debris and loading it into two large dumpsters provided by Bil-Jim Construction Company. Phil’s Tree Service also assisted in the effort.

“We thought we’d do for the homeless what we do best, a hand’s-on project to assist the people in Tent City,” said Kiwanis Club of Jackson president Fran Polito. “We’re gratified to work with the residents and we recommend that others get involved.”

Over the past couple of years many other groups have assisted by providing food and clothing for the homeless in Tent City.

The Kiwanis club, along with several other local groups and churches, has recently hosted a series of forums that put a face on the homeless by introducing them and their stories to county residents; presented strategies that have been successfully used throughout the state to assist the homeless; and offered opportunities for Ocean County residents to step up and volunteer to help.

“The key to ending homelessness is collaboration,” said Steven Nagel, the Executive Director of Info Line of Central Jersey and past governor of the Kiwanis New Jersey district, during the March 28th forum. “That collaboration includes all the stakeholders: county government, the business community; the homeless, community service groups, the clergy and the residents.”

The cleanup was completed by 10 a.m., well ahead of the projected completion time and beating the predicted rains. And then the Kiwanis Club of Jackson did the second-best thing the club is known for: it cooked.

Kiwanians Dan and Bob fired up the grills and BBQ’ed chicken, hot dogs, hamburgers, and sausages for the residents and volunteers who assisted with the cleanup.

“Hey, hey – if no one told you – thanks,” said a woman resident from Tent City.

Believe me, many people said “Thank you” Saturday morning. And believe me when I say, “The pleasure was all ours.”

Thanks for providing us the opportunity to help.

A slideshow of photographs from the cleanup can be viewed at

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