Last updated on March 27th, 2019 at 08:30 pm

“Get a job, you bum.” That’s what less-than-sympathetic people are often heard saying to the long-term homeless. Unfortunately, getting a job isn’t always enough to pay for housing in some areas of the United States, including the city of Lakewood, NJ. Up until 2014, a group of citizens, both employed and unemployed, lived in a makeshift city on the outskirts of Lakewood, as they were unable to afford homes. The 2014 documentary Tent City, directed by Aleksey Brazhnikov, tells their story.

Sometimes, more than 100 people lived within Tent City at once, and it wasn’t just a dumping ground for derelicts—it was a real community with a diverse population. Many of the individuals and families had their own pets and engaged in activities commonly enjoyed in most communities, including music, visual arts and spiritual worship. One young man even set up his own self-study program, showing that no matter where you are, you can always be learning. This particular inhabitant actually worked full-time as a retail clerk, but made too much money to collect welfare or receive more than $50 of food stamps per month. In a rather cruel Catch-22, however, he didn’t make quite enough to rent his own place.

The film makes it clear that most of the people who inhabited Tent City were no different from those outside of it, aside from the fact that they had low incomes, but the township didn’t see them that way. In 2010, the township sued Tent City’s organizers in an attempt to have the city shut down. In court, it was determined that the city would only remain open for a short while after the case’s conclusion, while its inhabitants were to search for other homes.

Unfortunately, it appears that the goal of finding affordable housing was out of reach for many of those who had lived in this community. On the old Tent City website, it’s stated that there are more people living in the Lakewood streets since the “city” closed and the documentary also mentions the fact that the township attempted to block some residents from obtaining housing, deeming them ineligible.

It can be seen why a makeshift city may reasonably be a concern for township officials, if it’s set up on public land that’s unowned by its inhabitants, as Tent City was. But, it’s difficult to understand how letting the former residents live on the street makes things any better. If the powers-that-be don’t see a tent city as a viable option to solve homelessness, it seems they have a moral obligation to find another way to help house and (gainfully) employ the mainly able-bodied, law-abiding homeless citizens of Lakewood, instead of letting them waste away. The same goes for helping those individuals who happen to call the pavement their home in any part of the world.

Watch Tent City here: 

image: gruntzooki (Creative Commons BY-SA)
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