HOWELL – Howell’s homeless continue to scramble to find a new location, but at least they have been granted a bit more time.
With the official sale of Block 71, Lot 21, otherwise known as the Destiny’s Bridge homeless encampment, the 12 residents of the camp have been given an indefinite extension on their deadline to vacant the property.
At the July 17 meeting, the council approved Dr. Richard Roberts’ bid of $1,603,000 for the land, located at 5998 Route 9 in Howell. Dr. Roberts’ bid was the winner of the township auction for the property on June 20. The township’s minimum bid price was $1,355,000.
Roberts also owns the land adjacent to this property.
As part of the agreement between the township and Destiny’s Bridge, the group had 30 days to vacate the property following its sale, which required the residents to be gone by July 20.
“There was no date from the governing body…part of the agreement was based on notice of sale, they [the residents] had 30 days,” said Deputy Mayor Robert Nicastro. “We [the council] knew that was something that was put in there, we never went to them and told them that [they needed to be out].”
On July 17, township officials allowed the homeless community an extension on that deadline, but did not provide an exact date for when they need to be out.
According to Nicastro, the community needs to start preparing. “This has been transparent,” he said, noting the residents always knew they would need to vacate at some point.
However, as things seem to be moving along quickly, Destiny’s Bridge harbors concerns for what awaits them after they no longer have residence on the property.
“We were really under the gun…there’s just no way we could’ve got anything together,” by July 20, said Minister Steve Brigham, leader of Destiny’s Bridge.
Brigham noted that they are grateful for the short reprieve, but the uncertainty of their deadline makes matters difficult, especially when it comes to transporting belongings, finding work, and finding shelter.
One family, a mother and two children, who made up 3 of the 12 residents actually moved out of the camp on July 18.
“They’ve been working for about 8 months…she saved a little nest egg and she was able to get into a little place,” said Brigham.
This is the goal; however, this is not the reality for many of the other residents.
Destiny’s Bridge helped compensate the family of three on their move with money raised from a recent GoFundMe. “We don’t have much at all…we told everybody, when they leave they get $500 a piece,” he said.
Residents will also receive an additional $400 a piece from another GoFundMe started by Howell resident and long-time supporter of the camp, Cheryl Copp-Eins.
Part of the township’s agreement was that any new property owner would be responsible for relocating the homeless group, although the township did not clearly define “relocating.” Roberts’ plan was originally to provide each of the 12 residents with $1,000 upon vacating the land, said Brigham.
“Since we declined the new buyer’s offer of $1,000 a piece, we felt we should try to compensate,” anyone who was making moves to leave, he added.
Brigham previously stated that $1,000 compensation wouldn’t even afford the residents two weeks in a hotel.
While the deadline still looms in the near future, Brigham explained that they continue to make preparations for what’s next.
“I was thinking of renting a trailer,” for transporting belongings from the camp. A storage unit in Englishtown will be allowing the residents use of space and a tractor trailer for transportation, said Brigham.
Brigham himself owns a pickup truck and plans on trying to rent a U-Haul truck. Only four of the residents have vehicles, the rest use public transport.
The camp consists of 10 to 12 individual tents where residents sleep, eat, and spend time together. Some tents are littered with belongings, creating makeshift rooms for the residents. Others house chairs and tables, food, or tools. One tent is even shelved, holding all of their canned goods and acting as the community food pantry.
Although there are only 12 residents, there are still a good amount of items that need to be moved along with the people.
When it comes to future residency, Brigham said that they haven’t found anything promising yet. After moving into Howell from a tent city in Lakewood, and in Toms River prior to that, Brigham has covered a lot of ground.
“Now a lot of the townships see me coming…It’s getting harder and harder,” he said.