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

(page 3 of 8)

Some residents keep gardens or have guard dogs barking at anyone who approaches. Others choose to sit outside, staring blankly, bottles of vodka clutched in their hands. A majority of residents leave in the morning to find work as day laborers in downtown Lakewood and return to eat communal meals around a grill. At night, some residents entertain themselves by betting on cockfights they host deeper in the woods.

Every resident has a winter coat, yet even with proper attire and heat from wood-burning stoves, the chill of the below-freezing temperatures quickly catches hold of fingers and toes.

The encampment includes residents who have struggled with drug addiction or mental illnesses. A few are registered sex offenders. Others have been hit hard by economic struggles, recently and before the recession.

And some have colorful stories. The second resident to live in Tent City was Hermann Winkelmann, a German immigrant who came to Lakewood at 19 and built a small fortune operating businesses in town. Winkelmann’s prized property was a banquet hall that was among the largest on the East Coast, famous for its semblance to a German castle, where for years Lakewood residents held weddings, proms and bar mitzvah receptions.

A mix of bad business investments and a diagnosis of bipolar disorder led to Winkelmann losing his fortune. He died, homeless, on a bus three years ago. Today, the banquet hall, last known as The Chateau Grand, is in ruin, its only inhabitants the deer that are occasionally seen roaming the parking lot.

In the center of the encampment is the Tent City Chapel, where Steve Brigham is often found during the day. A charismatic speaker with the rugged physique of a woodsman, Brigham, 52, often goes by Reverend or Minister Steve. Inside the chapel, the walls are decorated with paintings of Jesus, and a 5-foot wooden cross rests behind the makeshift pulpit. In the corner sits an old church organ. But unlike at most houses of worship, containers of sour cream, cans of Mountain Dew and boxes of Entenmann’s cake are strewn across the floor. Instead of light breaking through stained-glass windows, Brigham uses propane lamps to dispel the darkness.

To Brigham, Tent City provides the best option available for his homeless followers. In shelters, residents are forced into a regimented schedule — “a mass dormitory,” as Brigham described it — where you arrive in the evening and take your belongings and leave in the morning.


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!
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • This deserves a whistle: Lauren Bacall's stylish wardrobe is getting its own museum exhibit at Fashion Institute of Technology.
  • How do you make people laugh when they're fighting on the front lines or ducking bombs?
  • "Hamas and others have dredged up passages form the Quran that demonize Jews horribly. Some imams rail about international Jewish conspiracies. But they’d have a much smaller audience for their ravings if Israel could find a way to lower the flames in the conflict." Do you agree with J.J. Goldberg?
  • 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.