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!
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • 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.