Lakewood, a New Jersey town has cut down several trees that provided shelter for a homeless population that was reportedly becoming problematic for local residents and area businesses.
According to USA Today, Lakewood Mayor Ray Coles said the Police Department’s Quality of Life Unit had received complaints that unhoused folks “were harassing people,” urinating in public and “defecating between cars” near the township’s Town Square, where trees provided ample shade for loiterers.
To make the town center less desirable for vagrants, those trees were chopped down.
While the township didn’t comment on how many complaints it had received, one woman who works for a tax preparation company reportedly said she filed a grievance after coming across human feces on the sidewalk outside her office.
Minister and homeless advocate Steven Brigham called dealing with the issue by cutting down trees “extremely extreme” and suggested the township instead build shelters for those in need.
“That’s not the answer,” he said of township’s approach to the issue.
He said the trees that once lined Town Square disappeared on Aug. 8. A couple days later, trees shading a nearby parking lot were also hauled away. He argues that “public parks” are for everyone, including those who don’t own or rent property.
Lakewood Township, which has a population of more than 135,000 people, has been home to former WNBA president Val Ackerman, NBA player J.R. Smith, former Met Mookie Wilson, designer Marc Ecko and industrialist John D. Rockefeller.
The city reportedly made available 1,000 housing vouchers to the homeless last month, though the president of one New Jersey nonprofit group said displaced individuals — in addition to dealing with health care issues that may be contributing to their predicament — often lack documentation necessary to apply for state programs.
The mayor reportedly said Lakewood Township hopes to make the town square more family-friendly.