A city council took drastic measures to ward off the homeless people from building a life on the streets. Mayor Ray Coles announced the decision to cut down all of the shade trees that lined Town Square in Lakewood, New Jersey, after the advice from the Police Department Quality of Life Unit. This act was a result of several complaints from community members about homeless people creating chaos in the area.
The streets were turning into public toilets. “They (homeless people) were harassing people, defecating between the cars and residents were complaining,” Coles said.
While homeless people may be displaying unacceptable behavior, some advocates believe that the best solution isn’t to cut down trees. “Well, if they create a shelter, they create some accommodations for homeless people, (then) they didn’t have to worry about that. It’s extremely extreme to cut down the trees. That’s not the answer,” said Steven Brigham, a minister and head of Lakewood Outreach Ministry.
Brigham, the founder of Destiny’s Bridge, a charity that provides shelter and medical care to those in need, said: “Public parks property is public property. It belongs to the public. And they (homeless people) should have the right to stay on public property.”
Coles stated that even though the streets may not be an option, there are housing vouchers available for the homeless. “I encourage them to apply for one of the 1,000 Section 8 vouchers that are now available,” Coles added.
If it were that simple with vouchers, homeless people would not be openly urinating in a public area. “It is not a very straightforward thing, not an easy lift. Homeless people often do not have the identification and other documents needed for the state’s programs. In addition, they are often coping with behavioral health care needs and substance abuse,” said Richard Uniacke, president of Bridges Outreach, a New Jersey nonprofit that helps homeless people.
Cutting down trees is not the best fix to a complicated housing problem for the underprivileged population. The lack of trees just allows homeless people to get a nice tan while they pass the urine.