Lakewood Panel works for homeless

This is another story about the efforts in Lakewood to address homelessness. The key that is missing is the focus on ending homelessness by developing permanent, affordable and supportive housing.

Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 03/23/07

LAKEWOOD — In the woods where the homeless live, the trash piles up, though not because people who dwell in the shanties off Route 88 want to litter.

“We’ll get rid of the trash if there’s a place to put it,” said Dave Smith, 42, a recovering alcoholic who spent the winter living in the woods.

Smith met with members of Lakewood’s task force on the homeless Wednesday and talked about the challenges of breaking the homeless cycle.

Members of the group talked about plans for meeting the immediate needs of the county’s homeless and looked at long-term solutions.

When it comes to trash removal, group members suggested large township trash bins be placed at the site so the rubbish can be hauled away.

Earlier this year, Mayor Raymond Coles formed the committee to study the homeless problem in Ocean County and to look for ways to help people. Coles said he’d look at the possibility of getting trash bins at the sites.

The volunteer group is a mix of nonprofit workers, civic leaders and residents. The group is working on putting together a guidebook of resources and organizations that offer services to the homeless. Often, programs offered by organizations are underused, group members said.

Meanwhile, Coles said it would be a good idea for towns to come together to help people escape the grip of homelessness. For instance, if each Ocean County town identified one foreclosed home and turned it over to a nonprofit to run, a collection of transitional houses could be established, Coles said.

“We’d be talking about 30-plus homes,” Coles said.

In recent weeks, numerous residents and volunteers have been reaching out to Ocean County’s homeless, offering donations of blankets and clothes.

In one case, members of a North Jersey synagogue donated five vanloads of goods. In addition to the sleeping bags and other items, a congregant at Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes donated $2,000, which will be used to pay the homeless to clean up their sites, said Minister Steve Brigham of the Lakewood Outreach Ministry Church.

Brigham works closely with about 50 homeless people who live in the woods in Toms River, Lakewood and Brick. Building their confidence and helping those with addictions conquer their dependencies is crucial, Brigham said.

Smith, who is being mentored by Brigham, said he’s been off alcohol for more than two weeks.

“There are those of us who are sick and tired of being sick and tired,” Smith said.

John Vandiver: (732) 557-5739.