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Wednesday, July 24, 2024

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Homeless Encampments Remain in Rio Grande

sockagphoto/Shutterstock.com
Shown is a stock image of a homeless person’s tent.

By Vince Conti

RIO GRANDE – In June, Middle Township adopted a new ordinance that banned sleeping in temporary structures, like tents. The ordinance was aimed at providing police with a legal basis for dispersing homeless tent communities that dot the Rio Grande woods.

At the July 17 Middle Township Committee meeting, Jim Chew, a self-defined advocate for the homeless, said individuals in one of the homeless encampments had been notified by police that they must vacate the property or face summons as early as July 24. Similar comments by others left expectations high that the new ordinance would result in immediate action by police to clear the encampments, but the potential for litigation may be the factor restraining any wholesale action against the homeless communities.

Several of the homeless living in the tent communities are now represented by attorney Jeffrey Wild, of Lowenstein Sandler LLP. Wild is also a trustee of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Jersey and sits on the board of directors of the New Jersey Coalition to End Homelessness.

Wild is no stranger to defending the rights of those living in homeless encampments. For several years, he represented pro bono residents of what became known as Tent City in Lakewood, Ocean County. For years, the encampment faced challenges from Lakewood Township, and the land was finally cleared by the township in 2013 only after an agreement, part of which resulted in temporary shelter for the encampment occupants.

Ocean County, like Cape May County, is one of the few New Jersey counties with no homeless shelter. The county has successfully resisted legal actions that tried to force the establishment of such a shelter.

Middle Township Mayor Timothy Donohue has said the governing body is seeking a balance between the rights of the homeless residents of the encampments in Rio Grande and the rights of property owners, businesses, and other residents of a district that is both residential and a retail hub for the county.

Those calling on the township to clear the encampments cite high instances of crime and drug abuse in Rio Grande, as well as unsanitary conditions in the encampments.

Advocates for the homeless argue that the ordinance would roust the homeless out of the encampments while leaving them with nowhere to go.

Contact the author, Vince Conti, at vconti@cmcherald.com.

Reporter

Vince Conti is a reporter for the Cape May County Herald.

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