Homeless Tent City Meets Suburbia in Orthodox Town

Lakewood, N.J. Struggles to Cope With Poor in Its Midst

Standoff: Lakewood, N.J.’s Orthodox officials and its homeless residents are at odds over the seven-year-old encampment.
nate lavey
Standoff: Lakewood, N.J.’s Orthodox officials and its homeless residents are at odds over the seven-year-old encampment.

By Seth Berkman

Published February 26, 2013, issue of March 01, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Shortly after being sworn in for his first term in January, Lakewood’s mayor, Albert Akerman, visited “Tent City,” an encampment of about 100 homeless people living in a densely wooded area of township land — a rare slice of open space in the fastest-growing municipality in New Jersey.

Akerman, an Orthodox Jew originally from the Boro Park section of Brooklyn, described the encampment as “hazardous” and “subhuman” in a recent interview in his office. “It’s gut-wrenching. You can’t dream up Tent City. It’s horrible. Some of the people living there are comfortable, but a lot of them are not,” he said.

Finding better living conditions for these people has proved to be a fruitless endeavor. Akerman entered office embroiled in a seven-year standoff between township officials and residents of Tent City.

Homelessness is not new to Lakewood, in central New Jersey. In years past, a small number of homeless people lived far back in the woods or by railroad tracks, but they remained largely out of sight from the rest of the community. Then, in 2006, Steve Brigham, a local man who had been donating propane to various homeless sites throughout Ocean County, began pitching tents in an undeveloped area in the woods.

Video: Nate Lavey

Today, from the smoke rising out from the encampment to the site of garbage cans on the side of the road, Tent City cannot be missed when driving on Cedar Bridge Avenue, a heavily traveled county road that connects to the Garden State Parkway and the rest of New Jersey.

Orthodox Jewish residents, predominately Haredi Jews who have recently begun to move into new housing in the area, constantly complain about the air quality, the vandalism of local schools and disruption of car traffic by Tent City residents. From last December to January of this year, there was one death, two stabbings and three fires in the encampment.

The vitriol between the two sides increases with each incident and each passing day, as Tent City residents must sleep outside in below-freezing temperatures, without any prospect of a permanent home, income or medical assistance


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.