By DON STINE
If you think the recent cold weather was brutal for you- try living in a tent in the woods in frigid temperatures. That is what 10 homeless people are doing in Neptune.
The group, who are known as “The Woodsmen of Neptune,” live in a wooded lot behind the ShopRite, off Neptune Boulevard., near Route 66. Neptune Mayor Nick Williams said he heard about the homeless group’s plight during the recent cold spell and was able to get donations from clergy and others to temporarily lodge the homeless people in the Crystal Inn motel, on the Asbury Park circle.
A county-wide Code Blue law requires police to notify the homeless when cold weather is coming and try to get them to voluntarily go to a shelter.
“But, by law, you can’t physically remove them. Usually they don’t want to go to a shelter because they are afraid someone will come and take their belongings,” Williams said.
In order for the homeless camp to be removed, the property owner (it is privately owned) would have to file trespass charges against the squatters and police would then remove them.
But Williams said he doesn’t believe that is in the cards right now. But he added that the motel shelter is only temporary and that he does not see a long-term solution to the homeless issue right now.
“We can help on a temporary basis but it is not a permanent fix,” he said.
Carlos Santiago, 53, has been homeless and lived in the camp for more than two years. A former chef, he has a pending disability case after having spine and knee surgeries and having two strokes.
“So, I have no income right now,” he said.
Other homeless “Woodsmen” include two females, carpenters, construction workers and other trade workers. Some have physical issues and a few have mental disabilities. They range in age from a 24-year-old autistic man to a 71-year-old man.
“Many are not working for medical reasons. A construction worker here got hit by a car and now has seizures. But none of us are troublemakers and there is no substance abuse here,” Santiago said.
Santiago said conditions at the camp are not good now with the cold and snow breaking or collapsing tents. He said the last day they can stay at the motel is Thursday, Jan. 18.
“We will head back to the tents once support runs out and try to rebuild,” he said.
And Santiago said that getting the word out about the “Woodsmen of Neptune” will hopefully bring in more volunteer efforts. He said that many homeless would like to have their own place but never have enough money to put down a security deposit and pay the first month’s rent, or to put down-payments on utilities.
“The more people have attention on this issue, the better it will be,” he said.
He said he expects the issue to be discussed at the Jan. 22 Neptune Township Committee meeting.
“We need to have some financial security so we have deposits for an apartment and utilities- and get into something permanent. We are living in tents right now. We can pay rent but just have a hard time finding a place and coming up with the deposits for utilities and rent. Most of us would rather be somewhere else,” Santiago said.
The homeless camp relies on volunteers and donations to survive. To discuss the best was to donate or help call Santiago at 732-912-3534.