Another battle in a long-running war between Lakewood and Ocean County officials on one side and “Tent City” leaders is under way. And though a two-week truce was called Monday, the war is far from over.
Last week, legal notices were posted announcing that, starting today, authorities would come in and disassemble the camp if the tents had not already been taken down. Eighty people would have been completely homeless.Last year, Superior Court Judge Joseph Foster refused to allow Lakewood to shut down the camp, stating that the residents could not be moved without an alternative place to live. Officials contend that Tent City leaders have not abided by their part of the bargain to forbid more people from moving in. But neither has the county. It hasn’t offered any alternatives, including entering into a partnership with other parties, public or private, to build a county homeless shelter.
Before bulldozing Tent City, both the county and the township need to come up with alternatives for those who find themselves, literally, out in the cold. Some of these residents have substance abuse problems and/or mental illness, and have been reluctant to leave Tent City. But many have fallen on bad luck and hard times. All of them need some help.
Long-term homelessness may be a tough nut to crack, but what is becoming increasingly clear is that Lakewood simply lacks the will to keep its citizens safe — in Tent City and in the township’s thousands of dilapidated rental houses. And Ocean County lacks the desire to use anything more than an iron fist to deal with the homeless in its midst.
A judge properly ruled that alternative housing must be provided before Tent City can be razed. That has yet to happen. Authorities must, as a matter of basic decency, provide a shelter or some alternative before sending in the bulldozers.