(Click HERE to watch the video. ) There is no mailbox, no sidewalk, no driveway, and no zip code for the small shanty town that’s been created at the back of an abandoned lot in Lakewood. Yet for about a dozen homeless men, the disheveled campsite has been home for the last several months.
With the temperature hovering in the teens on this particular Wednesday morning, the men were found huddled together inside one small tent, doing what they could to keep warm.
Samuel Serrera lives in the makeshift community. He came to Lakewood hoping to find work and make a living. Instead, he’s had no luck with either.
Serrera’s friends are about the only support you’ll find within the shanty town. The lot is a few hundred yards away from the nearest road and their only protection from the brutal cold are a couple of propane-fueled space heaters and the thin walls of their summer camping tents.
Minister Steven Brigham does what he can to help, but claims Ocean County has turned its back on the homeless community, which he says includes illegal aliens as well as U.S. citizens.
“I don’t think a lot of people realize how dangerous it is to sleep outside in this type of weather,” Brigham said.
But town officials say its the state that’s turned its back, and not the town of Lakewood. “It’s not a Lakewood problem, it’s not a Tom’s River problem, or Pine Beach, or Beach Haven problem. It’s an Ocean County problem, it’s a state problem, and we need to get people to take their heads out of the sand,” Lakewood Mayor Raymond Coles said.
County officials claim they are vigorously reaching out to those in need. “If they come to us, we will attempt to get them into some type of shelter,” Ocean County spokeswoman Mary McFadden said in a statement.
There is a shelter for men that the Lakewood shanty town group could go to, but it’s 25 miles away in Waretown, which might as well be in another state for these men.
“It shows they’re really not concerned about the well being of the men right now,” Brigham said.
For at least one more night, it appears the campers’ main concern will be keeping warm. In the meantime, Lakewood has formed a joint municipal/clergy committee to tackle the homeless issue. Their first meeting is scheduled for February 22.