The way to get to Tent City is different for everyone, but there are overlaps- a shared lineage. Sometimes abrupt, others slow and painful, perhaps a drowning, a domino effect, or a tragic fall. They come in singles and pairs, clutching salvaged heirlooms and quickly stuffed plastic bags, in search of warmth, safety and bit of stillness.
A few yards from a nondescript road in suburban New Jersey, a two hour drive south of New York City, about 100 people live in a community of tents and shacks in a forest owned by the city of Lakewood. The camp, built over the last 7 years by its unofficial leader Minister Steven Brigham, and its revolving list of occupants, is home to the chronically homeless and the newly impoverished alike. Many victims of the 2008 economic crisis ended up there, after the rent money ran out, and staying with relatives grew tense, and they found themselves with no where else to go.
There are no homeless shelters in Lakewood, New Jersey, nor in the surrounding Ocean County, but in the summer of 2010, the City of Lakewood filed a lawsuit to forcibly evict the residents of the camp. A legal battle has ensued, as a pro-bono attorney for the camp has come forward demanding that every person should have a basic right to shelter themselves on public land in the absence of an alternative.
In a political climate in which words like entitlements, class, boot straps, and balance fly between those in power until they lose their meaning, lives hang in the balance. Each Tent City resident’s story is that of the intricate unraveling of a safety net, and what happens after.