May 6, 2010; Source: New Jersey.com | The former residents of a tent city located in Camden, N.J. slept Thursday night under a real roof—the first time in three years for some—thanks to help from community volunteers and a nonprofit that helps ex-prisoners return to society. The 50 tent city residents had been facing eviction, and although the deadline to remove the tents had come and gone three weeks ago, up until this weekend there were no plans to help them find more suitable shelter, even if only temporary.
Now, through a plan worked out with the tent city residents and local donors, the former tent dwellers will have free housing for a year. According to the Associated Press, Amir Khan, a wealthy entrepreneur who lives in a nearby upscale community, was shown video last week that his son shot of what the news service describes as the “self-governing settlement, hidden on public land between train tracks and a highway exit.”
Khan who is also founder of The Nehemiah Group, a nonprofit that helps prisoners reintegrate into society, was deeply disturbed by what he saw. “How dare we live in the lap of luxury and have this in our backyard,” he said. So on Sunday he appealed to members of his church to help. They contributed $25,000 and pledged to raise a total of $250,000.
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As part of the plan, the former tent city residents—who were consulted first—will spend one night in a hotel, and then will spend the next three weeks in a Nehemiah Center facility in Bridgeton. After that, they’ll be given places to live in rented homes and condominiums in and around Camden.
The former tent city residents will continue have access to social services including job training and drug treatment programs. Because of the speed at which things transpired, at least one of the former tent dwellers—James Boggs, who helped run the tent city—was reportedly amazed to see the help he’d wanted for so long suddenly arrive. “Where the hell were they before?” he asked. “Is this a backdoor way to get us to leave because they couldn’t do it any other way?” Apparently not.—Bruce Trachtenberg