It was during our exploration of the distance between the American Dream and the American reality that we decided to visit Lakewood Tent City.  More a village than a city, this super rural community that sprung up a handful of years ago because of a need for shelter for a few, is now home for some 90 or so people. 

The makeshift neighborhood, made up of tents and tarpaulin structures, a spring water shower structure, and latrine sewer system, was founded by Reverend Steve Brigham of Lakewood.  Now a non-denominational holy man and community builder, the reverend was a former employee of the Port Authority.  During his time with the P.A. he was helping friends and neighbors in need in the area.  When their need became more long term, Brigham suggested they camp.  These few campers of necessity were essentially the founding members of Tent City. 

In the early years of the settlement, Brigham suggested that the town of Lakewood ignored their presence or trespass - Tent City is on township property, but the blind-eye has over the last two years fixed upon Brigham’s community and legal wrangling rages on.  The township filed a lawsuit to evict residents and the residents in turn filed a lawsuit to remain, stating the township does not provide accommodations for the homeless.  Judgement for the township was denied for that reason.  Now those who live around the settlement are getting angry and involved, petitioning the town to expedite eviction, stating a laundry list of complaints including safety concerns due to open fires in the camp and camper’s use of drugs and alcohol.  The residents who filed the petition expressed sympathy for the homeless, but suggested that the rules that govern those who live legally in the town of Lakewood and Ocean County, should and must also apply to those camping on township property, many of them, not even residents of Lakewood.  Many of the settlers come from outside the county and state to live there.  

The laws the legal residents are asking to be enforced would make life in the settlement increasingly difficult.  And the town has made attempts to enforce many of the laws available to them to keep order, or as Brigham sees it, to antagonize.  When we were visiting Tent City, Brigham was running around making sure all vehicles in the woods, operational and otherwise, were registered.  The township warned Brigham that unregistered vehicles would be impounded.  And since we visited, the school bus that Brigham lives in, was indeed towed out of Tent City. 

There is no obvious end game in sight.  There are legitimate concerns and issues on both sides.  Lakewood Tent City is not and can not be a permanent situation or solution, but how the story concludes, where the residents go is still unknown.

Music for Driving Jersey: The American Dream: Lakewood Tent City was performed by Cody McCorry and Helena Espvall.