Friday, February 1, 2013

In Lakewood, aggression passes for compassion

In a video released today by Lakewood Scoop, Lakewood Mayor Albert Ackerman promised a compassionate end to its battle with Tent City.

“People in Tent City are living in sub-human conditions, and we were shocked at what we found”, said Mayor Akerman in an exclusive video with TLS. So, “as compassionate people, we decided that we’re going to try and place as many people as we can as soon as possible. ”

The Mayor says he’s working diligently with private concerned citizens, the County and with local Pastors in order to try and find placement for the homeless.

“Our hearts go out to the people living in Tent City, and we hope we can find better placement for them”, the Mayor said, acknowledging that it may be a difficult task. “As human beings, we have to try.”
This sounds good, but the details are lacking -- as has been the actual compassion.

The township has aggressively attempted to remove the tent encampment without offering a legitimate alternative. It has said it will find housing, but Ocean County lacks the kind of shelter space or low-cost housing that the state's northern counties have made a priority. If the township and county had a real plan in mind, they'd have offered it by now -- not two-plus years after the lawsuit was filed or two weeks after it filed health and building code violations against the camp.

The conditions in the encampment have deteriorated. It has become a burden on nearby neighborhoods. But, as the courts have ruled, the township and county cannot close Tent City without ensuring a viable alternative.

To put this in perspective, one only has to consider how New Brunswick handled a homeless camp that had sprouted along the Raritan River just as the city was about to relaunch its waterfront. Initially, the city demanded the homeless men be moved, but thanks to the efforts of advocates for the poor and homeless, a committee was formed and 25 of the 60 or so men who had congregated by the river were given shelter and housing. The rest followed their own script -- something you have to allow for -- but the encampment dissolved. The city was happy. The homeless were happy and advocates were happy. And in the end, a new committee was created to address the issues of poverty and homelessness and efforts are ongoing.

This, of course, occurred in a county -- Middlesex -- with what is considered a pretty good record on these issues. Ocean, on the other hand, is viewed by advocates for the homeless as being hostile.

If Ackerman and the Lakewood Township Council, along with Ocean County, were truly interested in resolving this, they could not be talking of vague discussions with private parties and instead would be talking to the camp and advocates for the homeless. They would be drafting a detailed plan to address homelessness in the county that included construction of a temporary shelter and affordable housing, along with the provision of services to the mentally ill or addicted. That, in my view, would show real compassion.

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