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Definition of "Shelter of Last Resort" Important In Lakewood Homeless Lawsuit

Lakewood homeless protest
Lakewood homeless protest (Tom Mongelli/Townsquare Media NJ)

On Friday, members of Lakewood’s Tent City will meet in court with township and county officials for a motion hearing which could decide if the encampments residents stay or go.

One of the crux points of the motion hearing rests on whether the Township and county have done everything in their power to create a “shelter of last resort” for residents. Jeffery Wild, the lawyer who is working pro bono for the residents of Tent City, says the legal definition of “shelter of last resort” is very similar to its common sense meaning.

“It’s a term that was used by the New Jersey Supreme Court and it sort of follows common sense. There has to be a place where government can take you when you have no other place to go.”

Wild cites a decision by the State Supreme court which says “it has to be reasonably certain that the government will provide you with a place to go if you find yourself in that situation (homeless).”

Though county and municipal officials have stated that there are services provided to the residents, Wild believes that they fail to meet the definition of “reasonable certain”.

“It’s not even close, they have turned away thousands of men women and children and I believe children are turned away on a daily basis. I have seen people turned away with my own two eyes. ”

In Wild’s experience the situation is almost without precedent. He notes that similar instances of homeless camps have existed in areas like Camden. However he says there is a major difference here.

“What’s extraordinary here is that there is a town that is claiming that it can kick the people out of the public woods without giving them another option. ”
If Judge Foster grants Lakewood’s motion, the resident’s of Tent City will be evicted immediately, if the judge denies the motion they will be able to remain while they continue with their claims against Lakewood and the County.

“It would be an unthinkable situation [if the Tent City residents were evicted] if Lakewood’s motion is granted they will have the legal right to shut down Tent city, and the 80 people who have been living there for years will be left with no other emergency shelter to go to because there is no emergency shelter available anywhere either in Lakewood or in Ocean County. ”

The hearing is scheduled for Friday, January 6th, at 9 a.m. at 100 Hooper Avenue, Courtroom 3, in Toms River.

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