Ed from Tent City

By Art Gallagher

The news this morning about the barbeque that the St. Vincent de Paul Society and the Knights of Columbus at St. Mary at the Lake Church provided for the homeless people living at the Tent City in Lakewood yesterday reminded me of the first friend I made during my three week stay at the Monmouth County Correctional Institution.

Tent City has been in the news lately as the Lakewood and Ocean County governments are seeking to shut it down, and homeless advocates are seeking to compel those governments to provide shelter to the homeless.

Tent City would be a fascinating case study and debate of the role of big government in addressing social problems.  Minister Steve Brigham, a high voltage electrical contractor, started the camp some six years ago on publicly owned land.  He never asked anything of the government, including permission.  He just started the camp to help people.  Over time it grew. 

Now, six years later there are suits and counter suits, media coverage and spin which will inevitably lead to more government and less freedom for the homeless and the taxpayers who will end up supporting them.

Robert Johnson of Businessinsider wrote an excellent piece about Tent City, including a photo essay , if you would like to learn more about it.

About Ed

My friend Ed has gotten a headstart over his community members in receiving taxpayer funded food and shelter against his will.

Ed was brought into the Monmouth County Correctional Institution an hour or so after I was on Saturday morning October 15.  While sitting in a holding cell wondering what was going to happen next, I couldn’t help but notice Ed come in.  His white hair, orange T-shirt and ripped blue jeans stood out in the parade of men being brought into to the jail by police officers from throughout the county.

I could hear Ed being interviewed by the corrections officer and the nurse who were processing the parade.  He was born in 1936.  75 years old.  He looked older than my father who will be 80 next month.

I must have lead the parade that morning.  I was the only one in the holding cell when the corrections officer and nurse finished processing me.  As others arrived, they immediately started talking.  Pleading their cases.  Why they shouldn’t be there.  How the police had violated their rights, etc.  For the most part I just listened.  By the time Ed was brought into the cell there will several of us there.  The other men were pleading their cases to each other.  Ed sat next to me and started his pleading.

He was arrested in his tent earlier that morning on a child support warrant!  I wouldn’t have guessed that.  His bail was set at some $42,000, the amount of his past due child support.  “I’m going to be here for three years,” Ed exclaimed.

Over the next few hours Ed told me about his life in Tent City.  He would start every day before dawn by bicycling to grocery stores in Lakewood where he had befriended employees who would give him food to bring back to the camp for himself and other residents. He managed to get a copy of the New York Post everyday. He told me about the chickens and his friends, the other residents of the camp.

He wondered if he would be able to get in touch with his sister and if she would bail him out.  How much money would he need to get out?  He wanted out.  Would a judge let him pay off his child support debt at the rate of $100 per month?  He receives $140 per month in general assistance, he said.   He could manage on $40.   I didn’t have it in my heart to point out to him that at $100 per month it would take 35 years to pay off the $42,000 he owed to the mother of his child.  If it was going to take $42,000 for Ed to get out of jail, he may have just received a life sentence.

A few hours later Ed and I were both transferred from the holding area to A-1, one of two pods where most all inmates go to be classified before they are moved to other pods in the jail.  For the rest of the weekend I got to know Ed a bit.  He was a career horse trainer.  He was a big fan of the San Francisco Forty Niners.  The Forty Niners had a big game against the Detroit Lions that he was looking forward to watching on Sunday.  Ed couldn’t see very well.  He had glasses but usually didn’t wear them.  He was always squinting.

On Monday I was transferred out of A-1 and lost track of Ed for most of the next three weeks.  As others from A-1 came into the worker pod where I had been transferred, I asked about him.  I also asked about him while at medical and was waiting with other inmates from throughout the jail to see a doctor or nurse. No one recognised him by my description.   Maybe he somehow managed to get out.  Maybe a judge or other authority realized the futility of incarcerating him.

The day before my release I was walking to visitation and saw Ed.  He was in a dormitory type pod without cells that was mostly used to house illegal immigrants who were waiting to be deported.   He didn’t look happy.  I couldn’t get his attention.  On my way back from visitation I waved to Ed who was squinting in my direction.  He waved back.  I couldn’t tell if he recognized me or remembered me. 

He didn’t look happy, even though he had shelter and was in a safe place, getting three meals a day and free medical care.

I don’t know what will become of Ed.  It seems as though he will spend the rest of his life in jail and that the mother of his child will never see her $42,000.

There ought to be a better way.

Posted: November 20th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Art Gallagher, Monmouth County Correctional Institution, Tent City | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments »

16 Comments on “Ed from Tent City”

  1. Interesting to hear said at 3:23 pm on November 20th, 2011:

    some stories from the “inside”.. I, too, have wondered about the wisdom of jailing people for unpaid child support: it’s like the IRS storming in and shutting down a small business for non-payment of income taxes: now they really have no way to pay, they’ve mad a bad situation even worse.. good old government!.. the thing is, if “Ed” could ride a bike, this indicates he is able-bodied: does he feel no shame or obligation to try and get some kind of gainful employment?.. as you know, I have quite a bit of understanding of what the taxpayers pay to incarcerate/care for so many usually able-bodied people, who really need to be forced to work, before they get taxpayer assistance.. feed/help the little kids, yes, they didn’t ask to be here.. but, until and unless we demand more personal responsibility from those who are able, we will continue to die as a society: we just can’t afford to pay for everyone else, anymore!.. hope things go well for you, Art..

  2. So much to explain said at 4:16 pm on November 20th, 2011:

    A better way? How about paying the child support when it was due originally. How old was his child? How old was the child’s mother when she had sex with Ed? Personal responsibility and being an adult is the answer, not expecting government to pay you $140 so you can pay $100 in past due debt. The government is, no doubt, already paying the mother through some other program with our tax dollars. I doubt the child sees any of the money no matter what the source is.

  3. Eye Opener said at 5:55 pm on November 20th, 2011:

    ‘Interesting to hear’ said at 3:23 pm on November 20th, 
    “.. the thing is, if “Ed” could ride a bike, this indicates he is able-bodied: does he feel no shame or obligation to try and get some kind of gainful employment?..”

    @ ‘Interesting to hear’,
    Ummm, Art wrote that this man was 75yrs old and had been living outside in a tent for some time.  Just how “able-bodied” can he possibly be by now??  Who is going to hire someone of that age with obvious issues?? Will you??

    I think the real question is, just what is going on with our legal system?

  4. Eye Opener said at 6:22 pm on November 20th, 2011:

    One final thought, — it doesn’t appear as if anyone was being served in this sad situation, including the tax payers.

  5. Bob English said at 10:45 pm on November 20th, 2011:

    Art…thanks for posting that.

    I was wondering if Ed mentioned if he was a veteran of the armed forces? Could possibly be some help for him if he was.

    I 2nd Eye Openers comments that Ed would have zero chance of getting hired anywhere under his current circumstances.

  6. ArtGallagher said at 11:02 pm on November 20th, 2011:


    You’re welcome.

    Ed didn’t mention being a veteran. Good idea though.

  7. Lois said at 12:42 pm on November 21st, 2011:

    @Art: –told you so—that God was gonna work good out of this thing you’re going through. Bet He’s got a big smile on about now with this article….”Thanks, Art, for putting a human face on Ed….he’s one of My children too, you know…” And, ’cause you cared—-were seeing Ed and not looking through him, and not judging…. wanted good for him…[still do]….

    Smile might be a bit broader too because you’re making us think about this whole subject. Huge population of incarcerated people, and society does not know what to do for/with them—almost a taboo subject, it’s so painful and complex and bewildering.

    i was a Soc. major; took a Criminology course, which left me totally bewildered—-caught between the “scientific facts & statistics” and the needs of society to do something with law-breakers—-and the human compassion evoked by the (total?) inadequacy of the whole penal system. Heart-wrenching….and no (easy, simple or otherwise?) answers. At least, i didn’t find any, and took the route of so many citizens: buried my head in the sand.

    In my last church down in Toms River they invited Pastor Steve to come and speak—he made a hugh impression—-there is a ministry in that church which runs around and collects and receives donations of ALL KINDS, from all over (“Grandmother’s Cupboard”)—-and then gives everything away to any and all in need. They regularly support Pastor Steve’s ministry. Which to me is really the “when I was poor, without, hungry…suffering… you visited Me…” Both of them. No government program–just human hearts responding effectively, efficiently and appropriately

    i always fear i don’t have enough facts/think clearly enough for your august readership here… Today i just want to keep rooting you on. Your writings—>special and important—–you do add the human element, and challenge us to be bigger….more……more God & Christ-like——–which, me thinks, is another part of why His smile is so broad right about now….

  8. oh, for heaven's sake! said at 5:53 pm on November 25th, 2011:

    certainly there are thousands of, yes, able-bodied and able-minded people over 70 working, and contributing to society, (and fulfilling their responsibilities, not “dropping out!) on a daily basis!..anyone can cite many examples.. point was, it likely took “Ed” a while to not pay for his kid, so, it’s just a snapshot of irresponsibliity that the rest of us wind up paying for!

  9. Eye Opener said at 7:33 pm on November 25th, 2011:

    @’oh for heaven’s sake’,
    I believe the following literary reference illustrates your point of view perfectly:
    “A Christmas Carol”, by Charles Dickens, 1843
    (Excerpt taken from Stave 1, “Marley’s Ghost”)

    “At this festive season of the year, Mr Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”
    “Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.
    “Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.
    “And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”
    “They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”
    “The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge.
    “Both very busy, sir.”
    “Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge. “I’m very glad to hear it.”
    “Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,” returned the gentleman, “a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?”
    “Nothing!” Scrooge replied.
    “You wish to be anonymous?”
    “I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge. “Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned: they cost enough: and those who are badly off must go there.”
    “Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”
    “If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Besides — excuse me — I don’t know that.”
    “But you might know it,” observed the gentleman.
    “It’s not my business,” Scrooge returned. “It’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people’s. Mine occupies me constantly. Good afternoon, gentlemen!”

  10. Eye Opener said at 7:49 pm on November 25th, 2011:

    “Seeing clearly that it would be useless to pursue their point, the gentlemen withdrew. Scrooge resumed his labours with an improved opinion of himself, and in a more facetious temper than was usual with him.” – Charles Dickens

  11. very lovely, said at 1:11 pm on November 26th, 2011:

    fact remains, there is voluntary charity towards our fellow man where we choose to help as individuals, (and, since you do not know me or anyone else, you have NO idea how much I choose to give to many worthwhile charitable causes and institutions, and volunteer my personal time for),and then there is the continual confiscation by government, to re-distribute one’s hard-earned and dwindling funds to whomever IT sees fit to do so, and, in many cases, chain many of the weak to their chosen life of irresponsible “takers”..

  12. Eye Opener said at 10:58 am on November 27th, 2011:

    Now that’s the Christmas Spirit!

  13. hey, you're the one said at 1:23 pm on November 27th, 2011:

    invoking Scrooge, just because some people are sick of paying for and wanting others to fulfill their responsibilities in life, are tired of paying for everyone else’s excuses and failures..herein lies the fundamental lib vs. conservative philosophical battle raging within our country, every day: how much is too much to “help” others?.. why do so many of the social programs seem to fail, no matter how much money is thrown at them?…when does the hand OUT stop, and the hand UP begin?..suggest everyone get a copy of the new book by Mark Levin, “Ameritopia,” out soon, if you don’t think our freedoms and liberty, exceptionalism and treasure as a country aren’t just about gone.. and,a very Merry Christmas to you!!- (if libs have their way, it’ll soon be a punishable offense, even to utter those words!-wake UP!”..

  14. Eye Opener said at 3:18 pm on November 27th, 2011:

    …and a Happy New Year to you!

  15. Eye Opener said at 3:28 pm on November 27th, 2011:

    Hope you have a Merry Christmas as well!

  16. Alex Libman said at 4:38 pm on August 8th, 2013:

    To learn more about Tent City, please visit http://TentCityNJ.org or http://FB.com/TentCityNJ