NJ Tent City Harbors Broke, Jobless

A shack to sleep in, a tarp to shade them from the sun, and a table to paint. The piecemeal shelter that sits just off Cedar Bridge Avenue in Lakewood, N.J., is what Marilyn and Michael Berenzweig call home.

Two years ago, Marilyn was making more than $100,000 as a textile designer in Manhattan. Today, they don't have a penny to their name.

"I knew it was bad, but I never thought it would get this bad," said Marilyn. She said she always thought there would be a need for designers.

Marylin and Michael are hardly alone. Some 70 people, aged 22 to 72, live in the wooded enclave in Ocean County known as Tent City.

How its inhabitants come to live here depends on each situation. Some are mentally ill or are drug addicts, while others -- like the Berenzweigs -- are victims of circumstance, people who've lost their jobs and run out of unemployment benefits.

"It's hard and the winter is coming," lamented Pastor Steve Brigham. The de facto leader of the camp, Brigham said Tent City's residents have nowhere else to go and that they need this shelter.

But necessity doesn't mean legality. By Monday, Lakewood Township had ordered 15 of these structures, shacks and shelters be taken down.

Lakewood Township and Ocean County officials refused to comment on Tent City.

Two years ago, Brigham quit his job as an electrical engineer in order to devote all of his time to helping his homeless community. 

Church services are every Sunday in the chapel.

There are grills for food, and even a washing machine and shower to keep clean. Brigham says he's just trying to keep life going here.

The Berenzweigs say they're just trying to survive. 

"The dirt is the hardest thing to get used to," said Marilyn, almost laughing. "It's so hard to keep things clean and neat and tidy."

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