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Intro: "In scenes reminiscent of the Great Depression, these are the ramshackle homes of the desperate and destitute US families who have set up their own 'Tent City' only an hour from Manhattan."

Charlie Errickson, 54, eating lunch outside his shelter in a makeshift tent city one hour outside Manhattan in Lakewood, New Jersey, where people struggle to survive, 08/02/11. (photo: James Ambler/Barcroft USA)
Charlie Errickson, 54, eating lunch outside his shelter in a makeshift tent city one hour outside Manhattan in Lakewood, New Jersey, where people struggle to survive, 08/02/11. (photo: James Ambler/Barcroft USA)

Tent City in New Jersey Forest

By Daily Mail UK

06 August 11


The Tent City of New Jersey: Desperate victims of the economic slump forced to live in makeshift homes in forest.

n scenes reminiscent of the Great Depression these are the ramshackle homes of the desperate and destitute US families who have set up their own 'Tent City' only an hour from Manhattan.

More than 50 homeless people have joined the community within New Jersey's forests as the economic crisis has wrecked their American dream.

And as politicians in Washington trade blows over their country's £8.8 trillion debt, the prospect of more souls joining this rag tag group grows by the day.

Building their own tarpaulin tents, Native American teepees and makeshift balsa wood homes, every one of the Tent City residents has lost their job.

These people have been reduced to living on handouts from the local church and friendly restaurants and the community is a sad look at troubles caused as the world's most powerful country struggles with its finances.

'We have been in and out of the camp for a year,' said ex-hotel worker Burt Haut, 43, who lives with his wife, ex-teacher Barbara, 48 in a tent styled like a teepee from the Old West.

'Our financial difficulties since the credit crisis three years ago have caused us to camp on public ground, at the back of churches and down the backs of closed down stores.

'We have had help from our friends and family, but we have run that well dry.

'We are trying to get back on our feet and with help from the camp leadership we hope to get back onto a social security scheme or help with some assisted housing.'

Ravaged by the loss of their jobs and their homes, the residents of Tent City struggle to get by without day-to-day luxuries that we take for granted such as food on the table and a roof over their heads.

Ex-minister Steve Brigham, 50, runs Tent City, which consists of a dirt road running through a two-acre encampment which has flowerpots laid out front of proud tents and homes.

Functioning as near to a normal town as possible, Tent City is governed by democratic rules agreed by all the residents.

They all must agree to no fighting, to clean the camp, to volunteer their time when they have it, and to most importantly keep the noise down after 10pm.

The camp is currently involved in a legal battle with local Ocean County authorities which wants to remove the camp and the case has gone all the way to New Jersey Superior Court.

Steve and the community of Tent City want Ocean County to provide a purpose built shelter for the homeless and are working with a local lawyer working who works for free.

'This is a place to recover, to dry out, to get back on your feet to help to re-enter the world,' said minister Steve who was ordained eight years ago but has given up all his possessions to live in poverty with the growing community in Tent City.

'We have a petrol-powered generator that heats up the water for the shower and lets us wash up dishes after donated meals.

'We have pet chickens which are not for eggs, they are to eat the ticks that could make us feel very ill with Lyme disease or a blood infection.

'It is a racially diverse community with Mexicans, Polish, Irish, African American and white people.

'There are eight women living here too, which was a problem in the past, but has now made the camp more calm by their presence.

'The struggle for every day existence here makes us realise how lucky we are when we have our homes and our lives all in front of us with our televisions and microwave meals.'

Even though the camp has relied heavily on the ingenuity of Steve and his able helpers, keeping hope alive in Tent City is his toughest task.

'We have a working chapel here that is built out of recovered wood and a tarpaulin roof,' explained Steve.

'In summer we perform the service outside in a circle laid out with chopped tree bases as seats.

'It is not a requirement to come to a service, but spirituality and hope can help these people who have hit their darkest hours.'

One couple who have lived for over a year in the camp are Elwood and Cynthia, who have both built there own cabin complete with functioning door and even have got themselves a sofa.

'We have upgraded from our tarpaulin tent to a balsa wood one, which should help us in the winter in case the snow weighs down our roof,' Elwood said.

'Hopefully in the summer too the temperature wont be so hot as well.

'Every help we get from Steve puts us that bit further on the path to a social security cheque or a government assisted housing scheme.

'I used to work cleaning for a local restaurant and Cynthia used to be a waitress.'

For Burt and Barbara the care that they receive here is preferable to living on benefits provided by the Government.

'The care and community offered by the Tent City is wonderful,' said Burt.

'It is just like getting back to nature and it makes you realise that all our wonderful appliances like microwaves, telephones and even cars are not essential.

'Food, shelter and water is what you need and is what we get here.'

One member of the motley crew who lives in Tent City claims to be the nephew of country great Johnny Cash.

'I used to be a guitarist and played at BB Kings' club in New York City,' said Mark.

'But my girlfriend left me, I lost my home and I travelled round Toms River near here sleeping rough.

'I was told about Tent City and minister Steve by a fellow homeless person and I walked down here and approached him for a space in his camp.

'It is like a family here and he helped me get set up with a camping tent and now I have friends and people to talk to, which I have not had since my life collapsed.

'My family can't seem to help me no more and I have accepted that every time that they have tried to I have let them down and failed to sort my life out.

'I don't know what I would do if I didn't have this place to live in.'

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