A New Jersey township is facing criticism after cutting down the trees in its town square to prevent homeless people from congregating in the shade.
The trees in Lakewood Township’s town square, also known as Red Square, were chopped to the ground earlier this month, local news outlet The Lakewood Scoop reported at the time. But the story gained renewed attention after the Asbury Park Press covered the situation this week.
Lakewood Mayor Ray Coles told the APP that the township decided to get rid of the trees due to an unspecified number of complaints about homeless people “harassing” others in the square, as well as the presence of human feces. The police department’s “Quality of Life Unit” then recommended that the township chop down the trees, according to Coles.
The story went viral on Twitter this week, with many people condemning the decision and also observing that in addition to not helping homeless people, it also made the square worse for anyone else who enjoyed shade.
Rev. Steve Brigham, an advocate for unhoused people who runs Lakewood Outreach Ministry Church, blasted the decision as cruel and unhelpful.
“These trees were over forty years old, and offered shade to the poor and homeless that would come there to find respite and to socialize with their neighbors,” Brigham wrote on Facebook shortly after the trees were cut alongside a video showing the barren square. He posted additional video two days later of more trees being cleared at a public parking lot across the street from the square.
Brigham also accused the township of repeatedly taking away resources that homeless people used, including by demolishing a community center that people previously used for showers.
Coles defended the decision, suggesting that homeless people apply for Section 8 vouchers, which help people with low incomes afford housing. But Richard Uniacke, president of the nonprofit Bridges Outreach, noted to the APP that applying for those vouchers is “not an easy lift” and that many people don’t have the necessary documents.