Homeless people ordered off county-owned land

We found this article in the Asbury Park Press as a reminder that until we commit the resources to ending homelessness we will have more and more people living in tent cities even if we do not want to call them that.

To read the full article click here. The following is a summary.

January 6, 2008

Homeless people ordered off county-owned land

Tent dwellers told to find new homes


Sometime in 1991, Robert Maxwell and some buddies pushed a 1977 Dodge Tradesman into a small clearing in the woods by the Henry Hudson Trail. Maxwell has lived out of the rusty van ever since.

More than a half-mile down the trail, Joseph Murphy hangs clothes from a line strung between two trees. To use the bathroom, he leaves his tent, which has a welcome mat at its entrance, and crouches into a smaller tent that has a large bucket and a plastic toilet seat.

“I don’t mind the weather too much,” said Maxwell, a self-described outdoorsman, as a cold wind fluttered the ends of his long, bushy white beard last week. “I can take it pretty rough.”

Maxwell and Murphy are among a number of homeless people who base their lives in the woods along the perimeter of the trail, a former railway bed that cuts through the Bayshore.

Monmouth County, which is in charge of the trail and owns the land that runs along its perimeter, now wants the homeless people to find a new home.

“We have an issue with people camping out on county property,” said Susan Walsh, a spokeswoman for the Monmouth County Park System. “We’re very concerned about their well-being.”

The county has requested that seven homeless people who live along the trail adhere to a court order that is equivalent to an eviction notice, Walsh said. A Monmouth County judge is scheduled to rule on the matter Jan. 17.

The county, which had been aware of the homeless situation along the trail for several years, began taking a tougher stance on the issue in recent months, at the urging of the Middletown Police Department, Police Chief Robert Oches said.

“We don’t want to go out there and find someone dead because of exposure to the elements,” said Oches, whose department stepped up its visits to the homeless camp, known as “Tent City,” in 2007.

There was no single incident that prompted the tougher stance, Oches said. Those at Tent City, known to have as many as six residents, have a history of assaulting each other, he said, often during drinking parties. Cans with sun-faded Busch Light logos and empty liter bottles of inexpensive vodka are strewn throughout parts of the camp.

Although some residents who use the trail have complained to police, Oches said there are no stacks of reports in his office that allege the homeless have robbed or assaulted other citizens.

“It’s the fear that something’s going to happen more than anything else,” Oches said of the complaints.

Police and county employees have told the homeless that the social service departments of either Middletown or Monmouth County are willing to help them, Walsh said. The offers have been declined, she said.

Though Maxwell’s van is clearly visible from the trail, Tent City is tucked well into the woods immediately west of the Earle Naval Weapons Station on Route 36.

From a distance, Tent City’s sleeping quarters appear as specks of bright colors that curiously stand out among the natural scenery. An entanglement of weeds and denuded trees gradually gives way to an encampment of five tents, all of which were empty during two afternoons last week.

Murphy, who uses a cell phone to communicate, said he is the only person left at Tent City – in recent months, one resident got picked up on an old warrant while another died of natural causes. He has no interest in leaving the camp he has called home for the past six years.

“I’m not asking anything of anybody,” Murphy said. “All I want is to be left alone.”

The township is more than willing to do what it can to help relocate the homeless who live along the trail, said Middletown Mayor Gerard Scharfenberger, who believes it makes no sense to allow the situation to continue.

“”That’s not an option,” Scharfenberger said. “You can’t have anyone out there in 20-degree weather living in a tent.”

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