Tent city for homeless in Toms River sparks controversy

TOMS RIVER, N.J. - March 19, 2014

28-year-old Tomas Torres is one of the residents of a small new tent city located in the woods behind the Emerald Apartments on Route 166 right next to the Garden State Parkway

"I'm here like a month because I lose my job and I can't pay rent, it's a lot of money," said Torres.

There are about 15 people living here in tents with warm heaters inside. Donated canned food is cooked outdoors on a propane grill while some use meals that can heat on their own.

62-year-old Pat Mahoney is another resident. He struggles with mental illness and says in October he lost his housing and government assistance.

"I want to get out. I want to get into housing. I want to be able to just go home, watch some TV or do something. Right now just can't," said Mahoney.

Three separate properties converge right in this area. While it is being determined if the squatters are on public or private land, the township is saying, at least for now, that it will not evict the campers.

Toms River has asked Ocean County social services to assess the residents.

"Maybe they just need some detox or maybe they need a job or shelter someplace so we're going to try to do that," said Mayor Tom Kelaher.

Another much bigger tent city in Lakewood is currently being dismantled after an agreement with the local government that gives residents a year of housing for agreeing to relocate.

However what happens then?

"That is the million dollar question. What's going to happen after the one year temporary housing because right now there is absolutely no shelter for homeless in Ocean County," said Cindy Lanoutte, Lakewood Tent City volunteer.

"I don't want to be here all my life - right here like this," said Torres.

However for now Torres and many others are forced to live outdoors.

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