LAKEWOOD â€” In the woods in Toms River there’s a homeless carpenter named Brett who has a cell phone, but he can’t use it.
Without an address, he can’t get his phone activated to field calls from potential paying customers.
“This is someone who wants to work,” said Suzan Fichtner, a community service coordinator at Monsignor Donovan High School in Toms River and a member of Lakewood’s new task force on the homeless.
The group, composed of area clergy and homeless advocates, held its first meeting Thursday at town hall in Lakewood. Mayor Raymond Coles formed the task force to identify the scope of Ocean County’s homeless problem and find ways to help.
One overriding concern is the need for a shelter; there are none now.
“We know this is a NIMBY (not in my backyard) problem with this issue,” said Rabbi Lee Paskind, a task force member.
“Are we at a different place than we were a few years ago?” Paskind asked Coles, inquiring whether Lakewood would consider a shelter within its boundaries.
Coles said he’d have to discuss it with his fellow Township Committee members and that it was something worth examining.
Colin Lewis of Toms River, who works with the homeless, said he was told in a meeting with county Freeholder Gerry Little last year that the county would consider funding the construction of a shelter if a nonprofit group would step forward to run it. Little could not be reached Thursday.
It’s difficult to say how many homeless there are in the county. Minister Steve Brigham of Lakewood works with about 50 chronically homeless in Lakewood, Toms River and Brick.
Advocates say the homeless comprise the addicted and mentally ill, who live outdoors for years, and working people who fall on tough times and struggle to get back on their feet.
In Lakewood, a group of Hispanic homeless now populate the woods off Route 88. In the past year, township building inspectors have had to shut down some 400 homes that were overcrowded and uninhabitable. At least 4,000 people have been displaced, said Edward Mack, director of code enforcement.
On one occasion, the township had to shutter a home where 22 people were crammed inside, Mack said.
“We called the county, and there was no place to put them,” said Mack. “We have to find a way to relocate these people. There is no real plan B.”
Plan A is short-term housing at local hotels, which is a county-run effort.
The task force plans to devise a strategy to help the people who fall through the cracks.
The task force of about 15 people will meet monthly to formulate a plan.