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Tent Cities US - update

May 05 2010
New Jersey tent city threatened with closure

A tent city in the state of New Jersey is under threat of closure. The encampment in Camden is home to more than 100 people in a county that has a homeless population of more than 500.

Last month, The Pavement reported on the rise of tent cities across America. Almost half of the country's 3.5m homeless people are unsheltered, with many gathering in tent cities for safety. One resident, Marvin Tomlinson, has lived at the camp, known as Transition Park, since it was founded four years ago on a patch of woods frequented by drug users between railroad tracks and a road. Marvin, 43, who has struggled with crack and alcohol addiction since leaving prison in 2002 after serving 16 years for manslaughter, describes his home as an "accomplishment".

But county officials want to close the camp, forcing the residents to find new places to live in a "cold turkey" approach.

Government housing director Gino Lewis said the community cannot survive the way it is: "There's lack of sanitation, there's health issues. So we want to make sure we try to transition them to facilities that will help them."

Yet social service agencies say there are not enough spaces if everyone who is kicked out seeks shelter space.

Glenn Neil, who has lived in the camp for five months, said: "I don't like the curfews at shelters, and sleeping on the streets is unsafe."

The tent city, which was founded by Vietnam War veteran Lorenzo Banks, has become a municipality unto itself, complete with a mayor and 16 rules, which are written on boards that hang on a tree. The rules include: No 1, "No arguing"; No 3, "No borrowing money or sex from anyone"; No 7, "Don't bring your drama here or you'll be evicted."

Residents say the rules are generally followed, and evictions and arrests are rare. Lorenzo, who is the city's mayor, said: "It's a lot of good here. It's not about being homeless and helpless. It's about trying to overcome your fears of society."