LAKEWOOD, N.J. (PIX11) — For years, the town of Lakewood looked the other way, allowing a tent city to not only exist but to grow — until now.
A makeshift tent city for the homeless, right in the middle of Lakewood flourished for years.
The city was created in 2003 by Reverend Steve Brigham who saw a population of people who simply had nowhere to go.
The community grew year-round in the woods and at its peak, nearly 150 homeless people lived in these shanty-like conditions.
“At its best, there were people who were cleaning, picking up garbage making sure there was no food laying around and so it was really beautiful,” said Reverend Brigham’s son Steve.
The town even provided some services, like bathrooms and trash pick up.
But four years ago, Lakewood changed its tune and filed a lawsuit, claiming residents were fed up with "Tent City," particularly the smoke coming from stoves during the winter.
"Smoke inhalation, there were people loitering all over town, there were drug issues. The cops were always involved," said the town's Deputy Mayor Albert Akerman. "I realized that's what my consitutents wanted so I had to start taking care of it."
Instead of a trial, an agreement was worked out between the two sides last year.
"Nobody wants people living in the woods . What we wanted was for a means for these people to survive until they could do exactly what we have now done," said Jeffrey Wild, a representative for Tent City.
In an unprecedented move, Lakewood officials decided to spend roughly $750,000 to provide temporary housing for up to one year for more than 100 of the homeless who lived here.
The reaction was a mixed one.
"Certainly a lot of people were very positive about the facet they had a chance to get back on their feet. But a lot of people were resistant because this had become their community," said Steven Brigham.
"Homelessness is a federal issue. We're a single town. We can't afford to take care of the country's homeless people and they were mostly not from Lakewood," Akerman said.
One year of temporary housing will of course eventually run out. Advocates for the homeless are hoping and already working on a more permanent solution in Ocean County when it does.