Notes from the Scrap Heap: Broke, Jobless Find Home in Illegal Tent City

People who have fallen through the economic safety net have established a tent city in a forest outside of Lakewood, New Jersey. WNBC’s Katy Tur reports.

The tent city in this video is by no means the only one. I was talking with someone who works at the unemployment office in Franklin, NJ (near me), and he said that there was an encampment in the woods right behind his office. This is just the extreme, guys. This doesn’t count the young or almost-middle-aged adults who have moved back in with their parents, or the parents who have been taken in by their children, or the people who have just scaled back beyond the level of safety or comfort. Look: I worked for 40 years in the printing trades, and I worked damned hard doing work that I loved to do. I kept up with the technologies and learned new things when I needed to do so. My house is smaller than some trailers; I never bought an SUV or a 42-inch TV. I don’t smoke; I don’t use weed or cocaine, and I haven’t been drunk since 1980. The one “extravagance” was that for years I was the only member of the family working outside the home. I suppose that cost us, but based on my family’s needs it was the right decision at the time. Now I’m out of work, have no medical insurance, and I’m unable to pay the mortgage on this little house, a mortgage that is $37,000 higher than its resale value (thanks to predatory refinancing). There are millions more just like me, and we’re really pissed off. I’m clawing and scratching to earn whatever money I can and maybe establish myself as self-employed, but so are thousands of others, and we’re competing for fewer and fewer dollars that our potential clients have to spend. A friend not too long ago said, “I’m praying for you and your family. I wish I could do more than pray.” I responded that his prayers were much appreciated, but that he should pray—and do as much as he could—not for me but for our country, which is in serious trouble. To the people making the decisions—the business executives, the politicians of both parties, the lawyers, the intellectuals—we’re just numbers that they read about. They have no idea that we’re real people, with real families, with real emotions, and now real anger. They’re just out of touch, so cushioned with their six- and seven-digit incomes and their vacations on Martha’s Vineyard that they have no clue what it feels like to worry that maybe next year I might be living in that camp in Franklin. And I’m one of the lucky ones! I have been able to retain a bankruptcy attorney, who took care of my debts through Chapter 7, and now a foreclosure defense attorney, who will at minimum keep me in this house for the next two years or so, and possibly discover irregularities in the mortgage assignments (since it was Countrywide, I suspect that it’s likely). Most of us can’t afford those legal fees, and it’s a damned shame, because if there’s one thing that everyone deserves it’s equal justice under the law. This is not about “big government vs. small government.” It’s not about “liberal vs. conservative.” It’s not about “tax and spend” or “hope and change.” We need jobs. We need debt relief. We need our social security benefits intact. We need health care. And did I mention? We need jobs. By the way, if the President saw fit to get us completely out of Iraq and Afghanistan in short order and canceled tax cuts for those earning over a quarter mil a year, there would be plenty of money for a crash jobs program along the lines of the WPA, and I suspect for a housing relief program as well. But something had better be done damned quickly.


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