Tent City

2014, Society  -  52 min Leave a Comment
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This documentary takes viewers inside one of the largest tent cities in the country. Profiling several members of the tent community and calling into question societal attitudes towards homelessness, Tent City provides a humanizing perspective on the plight of those living nomadically in an elaborate homeless community within the woods of Lakewood, NJ.

The Lakewood compound is an impressive feat of organization and cooperation. Tents range from slap-dash lean-tos to elaborate, personalized shelters. Camp amenities include showers, numerous grills, stoves, picnic tables, a piano, domestic pets and chickens. One resident even administers a web page dedicated to the Lakewood community, working from a laptop set up within a small trailer on-site. It is common for local restaurants and warehouses to donate food supplies that are too close to their expiry date to sell, but still fresh enough to consume.

The community itself is comprised of people from all walks of life - some with mental health issues or addictions, others who are just trying to make a living in a world they've been priced out of. Residents include artists, veterans and even a minister. New arrivals are accepted with no questions asked. Those who need a place to stay are welcome in tent city where the fundamental rule is "respect your neighbors."

The residents of the Lakewood camp are aware of the way they are perceived by outsiders. One interviewee cites the common "Get a job!" rejoinder lobbed at the homeless. But, as he explains, most Lakewood residents work full time jobs and still can't afford a traditional living situation. The same interview subject works the night shift at a local drug store, claiming he makes too little to buy or rent, yet too much to qualify for government assistance outside of food stamps (a benefit that totals less than $50/month). Despite the considerable amount of work and coordination devoted to running the Lakewood tent city, the external world continues to view it's inhabitants as a nuisance.

Tent City shares a heartening perspective of life outside of traditional home comforts, exposing the realities of homelessness beyond the stereotypes and rampant misconceptions towards the working poor.