Disgraceful tent city in Camden must go

Lorenzo "Jamaica" Banks, the "mayor" of Camden's Tent City, in the make-shift compound. (Tom Gralish / Staff Photographer)


It is a disgrace that a third world-like homeless enclave known as Tent City exists just over the bridge in Camden. But it is even more maddening that no leaders in New Jersey seem to care or know how to resolve the problem. Anywhere from several dozen to more than 100 people live in the so-called Tent City, which is akin to something found in Haiti after the earthquake. The squatters have become so entrenched over the years that there is even a self-appointed mayor who fields media requests. The deplorable conditions are unsanitary, unsafe, and inhumane. A woman was reportedly raped there recently.
Tent City is also a black eye for a struggling city that claims to be making a comeback. More alarming, in addition to Tent City, there are three other similar sites in Camden.
Tent City has gained the most notoriety and media attention. Even Gov. Christie visited the wooded patch during a campaign stop last year. “I’ll be back,” he promised. Now is the time, Governor, especially since much of Tent City is located on state land. City and county officials have been unable to resolve the problem. They say their hands are largely tied because the state owns the land. The State Department of Transportation, which controls the site, says it can’t provide social services.
All of that seems like a bureaucratic cop-out. Regardless of who has jurisdiction, the settlement is a danger and an embarrassment to the city, the county, and the state. Some advocates have been working with officials to move the homeless to permanent housing. Among the stumbling blocks is the self-appointed mayor, Lorenzo “Jamaica” Banks, who has no intention of leaving. Others say they feel safer there than in shelters. Some have mental-health and substance-abuse problems. Officials need to come up with a plan to deal with homeless residents of Tent City in a fair and humane way — soon.