Residents concerned after fire breaks out near Union City homeless encampment​

UNION CITY, NJ — A Sunday brush fire near a Union City homeless encampment has residents concerned.

The blaze was spotted along the palisades of Hudson County just after 5 p.m. News of the blaze, which quickly spread in the heavily-wooded area, gave residents like Dominic Umbro a bit of a scare.

“It’s actually pretty scary,” he told PIX11. “I’ve walked down this ramp a few times and I’ve noticed tents and whatnot and I have noticed the community there.”

Umbro is referring to the a homeless encampment, which, for the past two decades, has taken up residence with tents and makeshift sheds on the picturesque cliffside.

Despite Hudson County fire officials deeming the blaze a mere brush fire that’s not under investigation, residents believe it was the result of the encampment’s occupancy.

“There’s probably like a fire a year from under there,” longtime Union City resident Kevin Cocca said.

Cocca has lived in a nearby high-rise since 2002 and, according to him, residents in his building have made numerous complaints to the city about the activity at the encampment, which includes bonfires, but not much has been done to fix it.

“Are they starting a fire to stay warm, are they trying to destroy paraphernalia or stuff like that,” he said. “I think we have the right to know – this is our home and we have the right to be safe and feel safe.”

The swath of land in question falls on the border of Union City and Jersey City. Mayors for both cities tell PIX11 over the years they have done as much as they can to help the individuals living in the encampment find shelter.

Authorities from both municipalities even periodically conduct well visits on the homeless, providing food and blankets as well as offering to relocate them to nearby shelters.

Their hands are tied, however, when it comes to forcing them out as being homeless is not illegal.

A spokesperson for Union City Mayor Brian Stack said he along with Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop are aware of residents’ concerns and both are currently working on a long-term solution.

They urge residents with concerns about the encampment to call the city, something many did following Sunday’s blaze.

Cocca says he hopes officials can step up their response to the growing problem before it gets worse.

“These winters are cold – I don’t want them to find frozen people down there,” he said.