Tent city to be evicted

Lakewood Tent City, A Last Resort For The Homeless, Faces Eviction

Lakewood Tent City
First Posted: 1/5/12 03:53 PM ET Updated: 1/5/12 04:03 PM ET, The Huffington Post

LAKEWOOD, N.J. — It was not long ago that most Americans would envy Marilyn Berenzweig.

A textile designer, she earned $100,000 a year and lived a comfortable New York City life with her husband, a former radio producer. They paid $2,000 month for their apartment, kept a vegan diet, and had had a soft spot for pet birds — ultimately collecting so many that they devoted a room to housing them.

But her world came crumbling two years ago when she lost her job in the recession. Like many of the jobless, Berenzweig couldn’t fund her old lifestyle with meager unemployment payments. She downsized. She moved from place to place. Eventually, she left the city altogether.

Today, Berenzweig eats, sleeps and entertains in a two-person tent in the middle of the woods. On her recent 61st birthday, she was one of dozens of people, from the chronically homeless to former professionals like herself, who have come to call such places home.

“We’re too young for Social Security and too old to to be trained for another job,” she said recently, standing by a makeshift kitchen table under a tarp outside her tent. “So here we are.”

Five years before members of the “Occupy” movement began camping across the country in parks from Wall Street to Main Street, a handful of the downtrodden and jobless set up in secluded woods on the outskirts of Lakewood, a township just 70 miles south of New York City near the Jersey Shore. They didn’t do it by choice, but as a last resort.

Today, the camp is home to almost 80 people, led by a former electrical contractor-turned-pastor who left a modest life to take his ministry on the dirt road. They live with little electricity and without a modern sewage system. Instead, they use propane tanks for heat and a pump that sends water to a generator-powered washing machine and shower housed in a shack.

The camp runs on donations from churches and temples whose members visit daily, and has survived on a budget of around $1,000 a month. In this thriving community, complete with a chapel, a TV room and bi-monthly Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, new residents arrive every few weeks.

“This camp is for the homeless. It doesn’t matter what caused you to be homeless,” said the Rev. Steve Brigham, who lives in a converted school bus with a desk, twin-size bed and bookshelves from which he doles out supplies like food and propane tanks to residents. Yet, for all the hospitality he’s received from local churches and temples, he has started to have “trouble with the powers that be.”

A Lakewood resident since childhood who was ordained at a local nondenominational congregation, Brigham is talking about his hometown’s government. For most of its years, he said, the township largely ignored the tent city, but now Lakewood is taking Brigham to court to get the camp shut down.

A lawyer for Lakewood did not reply to a request for comment from The Huffington Post, but the township said in court filings that the campers are living illegally on public land. Brigham has responded by suing the township and the Ocean County, saying neither provide any other adequate shelter for the homeless. An eviction hearing is set for Friday, Jan. 6.

“In New York, if it’s below freezing outside, you can go to a shelter. In Ocean County, there is no shelter,” said Jeffrey Wild, an attorney with Lowenstein Sandler, a law firm that has taken up the case pro bono. Wild argues that the county is “required by New Jersey law to provide emergency shelter” and that the homeless have “a right to survive” on public land.

The county contends that it does its part for the downtrodden by renting motel rooms for hundreds of the homeless and running programs offering programs assisting with rent, mortgage and utility payments.

In total, 2,200 people take part such programs and other social services in Ocean County each night. But homeless advocates say many of the homeless aren’t accepted into the programs, whether due to disqualification or lack of resources. Between January 2009 and August 2011, 3,774 applications for emergency assistance were denied by the county, which has a total population of 576,567. A January count found 45 people who were unsheltered and homeless in the county, but advocates believe the number is higher.

“The county is not saying homelessness is not an important issue. We spend millions on the homeless,” said Jean Cipriani, an attorney who represents the Ocean County Board of Social Services. She added that the county, which spends $20 million each year on services for the poor, also has its hands tied because of the same recession that has led many to reside in the tent city to begin with.

Tim Wible is one of those residents. After 17 years, he recently lost his position as a carpenter. Living on $140 a month in general assistance and $200 a month in food stamps in addition to his meager savings, he barely made ends meet until he missed an evaluation appointment. Then, the money was cut off and he had nowhere to go.

“I’m looking for work every day, but it’s hard because I don’t have my IDs. So first I’m trying to get those,” said Wible, 43.

On a recent night, a Wible held hands with campers as Brigham led them in prayer after a visitor donated roasted chicken and pumpkin pies for dinner.

“Father, we thank you for this food that you have given us today. We ask you that you would bless the hands that made it. We ask that you would bless us all that we may accomplish thy will and pleasure,” the group chanted.

Wible said being a part of the camp has brought him closer to God.

“I’m not really a religious man, but I’ve started to go to services here with Steve. You wouldn’t believe how many people he’s helped,” he said. “I haven’t a clue what I would do if they shut this place down.”

More vacant homes than there are homeless persons

December 30, 2011 12:38 PM

3.5 Million Homeless and 18.5 Million Vacant Homes in the US

By Diane Sweet


The National Economic and Social Rights Initiative along with Amnesty International are asking the U.S. to step up its efforts to address the foreclosure crisis, including by giving serious consideration to the growing call for a foreclosure moratorium and other forms of relief for those at risk, and establishing a housing finance system that fulfills human rights obligations.

New government census reports have revealed disturbing information that details the cold, hard numbers of Americans who have been deeply affected by the state of our economy, and bank foreclosure practices:

In the last few days, the U.S. government census figures have revealed that 1 in 2 Americans have fallen into poverty or are struggling to live on low incomes. And we know that the financial hardships faced by our neighbors, colleagues, and others in our communities will be all the more acutely felt over the holiday season.

Along with poverty and low incomes, the foreclosure rate has created its own crisis situation as the number of families removed from their homes has skyrocketed.

Since 2007, banks have foreclosed around eight million homes. It is estimated that another eight to ten million homes will be foreclosed before the financial crisis is over. This approach to resolving one part of the financial crisis means many, many families are living without adequate and secure housing. In addition, approximately 3.5 million people in the U.S. are homeless, many of them veterans. It is worth noting that, at the same time, there are 18.5 million vacant homes in the country.

The stark realities that persist mean that millions of families will be facing the holidays in temporary homes, or homes under threat, and far too many children will be wishing for an end to the uncertainty and distress their family is facing rather than an Xbox or Barbie doll.

Housing is a basic human need and a fundamental human right. Yet every day in the United States, banks are foreclosing on more than 10,000 mortgages and ordering evictions of individuals and families residing in foreclosed homes. The U.S. government’s steps to address the foreclosure crisis to date have been partial at best.

The depth and severity of the foreclosure crisis is a clear illustration of the urgent need for the U.S. government to put in place a system that respects, protects and fulfills human rights, including the right to housing. This includes implementing real protections to ensure that other actors, such as financial institutions, do not undermine or abuse human rights.

There is a link available at the Amnesty International website for anyone who is interested and would like to join the call on the Obama administration and Congress to urgently step up efforts to address the foreclosure crisis, including by seriously considering the growing call for a foreclosure moratorium and other forms of relief, and establishing a housing finance system that fulfills human rights obligations.

[Via Amnesty International]

1 in 5 American Children Live in Poverty

Study: 1 in 5 American children lives in poverty

Researchers find 14.7 million children were poor in 2009, 2.5 million more than in 2000

Image: Karla Washington
updated 8/17/2011 5:30:32 AM ET

LAS VEGAS — Karla Washington worries how she will afford new school uniforms for her five-year-old daughter.

Washington, an undergraduate student, earns less than $11,000 a year from a part-time university job. The salary must cover food, rent, health care, child care and the occasional splurge on a Blue’s Clues item for her only child.

“My biggest fear is not providing my daughter with everything that she needs to be a balanced child, to be independent, to be safe, to feel like she is of value,” said Washington, 41.

Washington’s economic woes are seen throughout Nevada, where the nation’s highest unemployment and foreclosure rates have combined to devastate families and empty neighborhoods and construction yards.

A national study on child well-being to be published Wednesday found Nevada had the highest rate of children whose parents are unemployed and underemployed. The state is also home to the most children affected by foreclosures — 13 percent of all Silver State babies, toddlers and teenagers have been kicked out of their homes because of an unpaid mortgage, the study found.

Across the nation, the research by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that child poverty increased in 38 states from 2000 to 2009. As a result, 14.7 million children, 20 percent, were poor in 2009. That represents a 2.5 million increase from 2000, when 17 percent of the nation’s youth lived in low-income homes.

Recession hits hard
In the foundation’s first examination of the impact of the recession on the nation’s children, the researchers concluded that low-income children will likely suffer academically, economically and socially long after their parents have recovered.

“People who grew up in a financially secure situation find it easier to succeed in life, they are more likely to graduate from high school, more likely to graduate from college and these are things that will lead to greater success in life,” said Stephen Brown, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “What we are looking at is a cohort of kids who as they become adults may be less able to contribute to the growth of the economy. It could go on for multiple generations.”

The annual survey monitored by policy makers across the nation concludes that children from low-income families are more likely to be raised in unstable environments and change schools than their wealthier peers. As a result, they are less likely to be gainfully employed as adults.

There are other social costs. Economically disadvantaged children can result in reduced economic output, higher health expenditures and increased criminal justice costs for society, the survey concludes. The research is based on data from many sources, including the Mortgage Bankers Association, National Delinquency Survey and U.S. Census Bureau.

“Even if you don’t care about kids and all you care about is your own well-being, then you ought to be concerned,” said Patrick McCarthy, president of the Baltimore, Md.-based charity. “… We’ve got to think about what kind of state, what kind of country we can expect to have if we are not investing in the success of our children.”

The report found some bright spots.

In the two decades since researchers began compiling the annual report, infant mortalities, child and teen deaths and high school dropout rates have declined. But the number of unhealthy babies have increased, and there were far more children living in low-income families.

Programs such as food stamps, unemployment insurance and foreclosure meditation have acted like a dam against the flood of poverty, McCarthy said, but that assistance has been threatened by federal and state government budget cuts.

Mississippi in last place
Mississippi kept its overall last place ranking in child welfare for the 10th consecutive year, according to the survey. It was closely trailed by neighboring Louisiana and Alabama, a nod to the poverty that plagues southern states. Nevada ranked 40th overall, its worst ranking in 10 years, largely because of its economic decline.

The rankings are determined by a state’s achievement in 10 indicators that reflect child poverty, such as undernourished infants, infant mortalities, teen births and children in single-parent families. The top state for children was New Hampshire, ahead of Minnesota, Massachusetts and Vermont.

In Mississippi, 31 percent of children were living in poverty — the highest level in the U.S.

New Hampshire had the smallest population of low-income children at 11 percent. The federal poverty level this year is $22,350 a year for a family of four, but child advocates claim that figure should be higher.

Nevada, Florida, Arizona and California and other states grappling with high foreclosures rates also were home to the largest populations of children affected by the mortgage crisis. North Dakota had the fewest, followed by South Dakota, Vermont, Wyoming and Alaska. In all, more than 5.3 million children have been affected by foreclosure, the study found.

Mississippi’s rankings were least affected by the recession, only because it long ago secured its worst-case standing. Overall, Mississippi ranked last in seven of the survey’s child well-being indicators.

“We are really tired of being in 50th place,” said Linda Southward, a social science research professor at Mississippi State University. She said state policy makers have closely followed the rankings and have strived to promote early education as part of its strategy to reduce overall poverty.

“We are just extremely challenged given the economic hardships that we have,” she said.

Dreaming of a savings nest
Nevada, meanwhile, has long had a challenging record on child issues because of its historically low-performing schools.

The Kids Count survey found 11 percent of Nevada teens were not in school and had not graduated from high school in 2009, the worst rate in the nation. New Hampshire was best at 3 percent.

Image: Karla Washington
Karla Washington dreams of stashing away a small savings nest for her daughter, in case of emergency. “I want to be able to say that she is OK,” she says.

At least 34 percent of Nevada’s children were living in families with both parents not working full-time in 2009, the largest increase in the nation, according to the survey.

No to Funding Healthcare, Yes to Funding Marriage

Kansas wants federal funds to promote marriage

By Brad Cooper | The Kansas City Star  Tuesday, August 16, 2011

While turning down one federal handout last week, the administration of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback was applying for a different one.

No, thanks: $31.5 million for implementing the new federal health care law.

Please remit: $6.6 million to promote marriage.

The Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services is seeking $2.2 million a year for three years to pay for counseling that encourages unwed parents to marry. Free marriage licenses would be given to those who do.

State officials portrayed the grant request as the state’s first major marriage initiative aimed at reducing child poverty.

In giving up the $31 million, the governor said that every state should prepare for less federal cash, given that so many questions are swirling about government spending.

So why ask for marriage money?

Kansas Sen. Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, said the Brownback team is picking grants based on how they fit with its worldview.

Turning down the $31 million made a statement opposing President Barack Obama’s health care initiative, Hensley said. Promoting marriage was another matter for the Republican governor, he said.

“When it benefits their philosophical ideology, everything is fine,” Hensley said. “Where it doesn’t fit in or goes against them — either from a policy or political standpoint — then the federal money isn’t OK.”

Brownback’s staff didn’t detail why one grant would be more acceptable than the other, but it outlined how Kansas decides which grants to seek and which to forgo.

“The administration doesn’t have a blanket policy regarding grants. … Each potential grant and the federal requirements that come along with them are evaluated on a case-by-case basis with an increased watchful eye toward long-term mandates with short-term funding streams,” according to statements released to The Star.

Asked if other grants had been rejected, Brownback’s staff said it’s more accurate to say the state has declined to apply for some grants.

The state, for example, isn’t pursuing a slice of the $900 million that the federal government will give out over the next five years to help communities reduce chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

Read more: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2011/08/16/120833/kansas-wants-federal-funds-to.html#ixzz1VCS1G1P2