Township's Move Against Homeless Called 'Extremely Extreme'

Activists say Lakewood, New Jersey, could have built a shelter rather than cut down shade trees
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 30, 2022 1:15 PM CDT
Township's Move Against Homeless Called 'Extremely Extreme'
Stock photo of an urban tree, cut at the base.   (Getty Images/ssdk930)

The township of Lakewood, New Jersey, is facing criticism for what activists say is an "extremely extreme" move to deter homeless people from congregating in the town square. Mayor Ray Coles said the township opted to cut down shade trees, based on a recommendation from police, after numerous complaints about homeless people using the public space as a restroom. They were "defecating between the cars and residents were complaining," Coles said, per the Asbury Park Press. But Steven Brigham of Lakewood Outreach Ministry, who founded a charity that provides housing, food, and medical care to those in need, argues the issue could have been resolved if the township did more to accommodate homeless people, say by building a shelter.

"It's extremely extreme to cut down the trees. That's not the answer," he tells the Press, noting trees were also cut down in another downtown area. Homeless people "should have the right to stay on public property." Coles encouraged applications for one of 1,000 housing vouchers available to homeless people in the state. Though a nonprofit is assisting in the process, activists say it can take more than a year and those in need often don't have the required documentation. This is just the latest move by the township to erase homelessness. The township forced out more than 100 people living in a decade-old camp known as Tent City in 2014, per Photojournalist Christopher Occhicone noted some were offered $3,000 in cash to leave town, while others were provided with a year of rent-free housing in neighboring towns. (Read more homelessness stories.)

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