Reader-submitted: From Homeless to a Recovery Coach

tent city snowSubmitted to TLS by Jessica Borner. Nestled away in the woods is a community of 65+ homeless individuals that live in tents, sharing one shower, with no electricity and no real plumbing for toilets, all with one goal – to find affordable housing. This might sound like the beginning of a 1950’s movie, but it isn’t. Instead, this is a modern-day quandary for these individuals who reside at the intersection of South Clover Street and Cedar Bridge Avenue in Lakewood, NJ, in a community called Tent City.

Stigma has it the homeless are criminals, drug addicts, or just lazy people who have no intention of holding a job and choose to be homeless. Is this true? Of course not! They are people that fell on hard times due to the economy, Hurricane Sandy victims, war veterans that were denied government assistance; as well as, some people with mental illness and addicts, who re having a hard time finding the help they need to get their feet back on the ground. They are people like you and I, who have lost everything due to a plethora of different reasons, and no two stories are the same. Yet, they all have one thing in common – they live outdoors in tents.

I had my own bout of homelessness in 2008. After a very hostile living environment, I ended up homeless, living in my van and various hotels in Ocean County. I had hardly any support from friends or family. Although I worked two jobs at the time, I still had a very hard time pulling myself out of that situation – with two kids, no child support and a van that was always breaking down. I had become depressed and hopeless.

That’s when I met Minister Steve Brigham.

He is such a friendly and helpful man, and it is very uplifting to be around him. He offered me a tent, food, and other basic necessities as well as a chance to be part of a community. That’s a lot to someone who has lost everything! Although I did not become a permanent resident of Tent City, my brief time there made things seem more bearable, and I started to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

It’s now six years later, and I have to say – my life, with hard work, has really come together. I work full-time in hospice and I’m ready to achieve a certificate as a Recovery Coach next month. I recently became involved in Tent City again, but this time as a volunteer. I had read something on Facebook a few months ago that this community needed batteries. Again, knowing what it’s like to have nothing, I went out and purchased them a car battery.

Upon pulling into Tent City for the first time in six years, I was shocked how the community grew from maybe 25-35 people in 2008, to 90+ in 2013. The homeless population is growing at a very fast and alarming rate in New Jersey. I decided to venture out and found even more areas where these encampments exist in Ocean County. It’s hard to believe that people, in this day and age, still live in tents – but they do. In my “off time” I engage in volunteering at different encampments and doing what I can to help this population.

Many of us live “paycheck to paycheck”, and are merely just a paycheck away from becoming homeless….

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17 COMMENTS

  1. the point of this artical ??
    the township is and state have offered many options which wasnt good enough . its almost like these folks want to stay in tents living out doors .

  2. this is all very sad but does not justify lawlessness. the Tent City people have been offered housing but have refused to accept any offered solutions. They are squatters on public property and there is no justification for that.

  3. Your story is a real inspiring one but do all residents there share your will and drive to contribute to society and live normal lives?, a friend of mine who visited tent city was told by a resident that he doesn’t seek shelter in a homeless shelter because “in the homeless shelters during the day you can’t hang around and you need to go to work”

  4. Article fails to mention the views and beliefs “minister” Brigham holds regarding mental health care. In short he doesn’t believe in it and actively encourages his tenants to not abide to the instructions of their mental health counselors/doctors.

  5. Jessica-

    Good for you and we’re happy you we’re able to get yourself back on your feet and hopefully for you sake stay that way.

    The people of lakewood only hope the same for the rest of the tent city residents. However, it’s been very apparent and reveling that after all the effort, still there are those who refuse help.

    As other have pointed out, it has much to do with Minister Brigham.

  6. Jessica,
    while you’re story is truly uplifting it is truly a shame that most residents, and I repeat most residents, don’t share your desire to move on and find a better life. If tent city was used only as a temporary solution for hardworking Americans who fell on hard times I don’t think that the residents of Lakewood would as opposed to this encampment. The problem begins with those who use tent city as place where they think they are above the law and only cause much headache to us law abiding citizens whose tax dollars are actually used to fund this wreck.

    Furthermore, while Steve Brigham has been a true friend to you and your family, we can’t turn a blind eye to his sordid behavior. He has repeatedly encourage his fellow residents to shun all public assistance and he has failed to curb the drugs and violence that emanate from tent city. One kind deed doesn’t gloss over the serious problems that he contributes to this town.
    Perhaps Jessica, you can go to tent city and instead of encouraging the questionable activities of Steve and his friend, explain to them how manage to leave and help them establish themselves as well.

  7. Thank you much for sharing your story.

    I apologize for those who chose to respond to your article by criticizing tent city. I don’t think it’s appropriate in response to your story. It may be appropriate at a different time.

    Instead I’d just like to congratulate you on your success, and G-d should continue to give you only success. It is also beautiful to see you giving back to those who helped you.

  8. its not that people want to think of tent city residents as criminals….but time and again, its being proven true….what are we supposed to think, if every other day a tent city resident is arrested for crimes, drugs, thievery…we can feel bad, but we also have to protect ourselves…some of these people are dangerous….

  9. It IS appropriate to discuss Tent City in regards to her article. She brings it up herself. I’m glad she has seen success. I wish her success on ALL the residents.

  10. Its hard to believe that some people really believe all the gossip that is spread about Tent City.
    “Every other day a tent city resident is arrested for crimes, drugs, thievery. What an exaggeration That would mean that hundreds of people from Tent City are in jail and Tent city woulld be empty. There are many more people that live in housing in Lakewood that have commited crimes then in Tent City.
    ” Tent City people have been offered housing but have refused to accept any offered solutions. Totally False. Do you really believe that all these people want to live in tents.
    ” A friend of mine who visited tent city was told by a resident that he doesn’t seek shelter in a homeless shelter because “in the homeless shelters during the day you can’t hang around and you need to go to work” There are no homelees shelters except for Atlantic City and they are suing Ocean County for dumping people there and not contributing funds to support the number of people the County was sending there.
    ” Its almost like these folks want to stay in tents living out doors.” Do you really think that over 80 people want to live outside in sub freezing weather.
    “Article fails to mention the views and beliefs “minister” Brigham holds regarding mental health care. In short he doesn’t believe in it and actively encourages his tenants to not abide to the instructions of their mental health counselors/doctors” Do you know Minister Steve? Have you ever spoke to him about his beliefs? Well, I have known him for years and have had hours of conversations with him about the homeless. I have also spent hours at Tent City talking to the homeless. All of what you say is not true.
    “Some of these people are dangerous” I feel safer walking through Tent City at midnight than I do driving in Lakewood during the day and facing all the dangerous drivers.
    To all of you that like to listen to the gossip and spread false information I suggest you spend your time finding out the truth before continuing to spead false information

  11. Great story, Jessica & we salute ur fortitude for pulling you & ur family out of this mess. However, during ur homelessness, would u have been correct if u would have robbed a bank or mugged an old lady to get some much-needed funds to feed ur hungry children ? I hope not. Law is law. There is also SSI. & sec 8. And shelters. What tent city residents are doing is against the law. Thanx , again & best wishes for the future.

  12. Minister Steve is a minister not a police officer. 🙂 A minister is a member of clergy who addresses the needs of people and that’s exactly what he does. There will always be drug addicts, just like there will always be gamblers. We can not control ones addictive nature and we all will reap what we sow.

  13. May God bless all the people , just like this writer of the article who manage to get out , and stand on their feet. To the rest of the unfortunate tent city residents, it is criminal that the township allows people to sleep outside in two degree and seven degree weather. I remember when I lived in New York City, the mayor ordered that any homeless people sleeping over the subways gradings in the cold of winter had to be removed and brought to a shelter. That’s what should be done here now. Especially tonight and tomorrow night. Everyone should be forced to evacuate now, before the big storm, and the heavy winds that could bring down the trees on the tents.

  14. So many unsubstantiated claims in the comments.

    “My friend told me xyz…”
    “I heard minister Steve said…”
    “Tent city residents are responsible for so mic crime….”

    Isn’t this slander?
    Treat others how you’d like to be treated.

    Thanks Jessica, excellent story!

  15. As a woman to woman I read your story with tears in my eyes. I’m sorry you went through that and I’m glad you pulled through. “What doesn’t break ya makes ya stronger!” I’m sure your a rock solid woman of hope and faith.

    However, can you address the claim’s of all the commentators? How should I view all this info?

Comments are closed.