By Joan Ellis
Tent City, Lakewood has been a smoldering controversy of town vs. encampment during the six years since its founding by ordained minister Steve Brigham.
Minister Steve, as he is known, sees our state’s current housing system for homeless people as both needlessly expensive and inhumane. His focus in Tent City is to encourage ownership and dignity in an atmosphere of rehabilitation. The community he leads wants fair housing from Lakewood Township; the township responded by filing suit for eviction and coming to the camp to remove their leader in handcuffs. As of now, the court has ruled twice in favor of the homeless who are using the time extension to continue to try to rebuild their lives.
Enter Jack Ballo, documentary filmmaker. When he first saw Tent City, he was moved by the peaceful feeling at the camp, by the sight of people living “without the luxuries of life that we learn to depend on at an early age and spend our entire lives paying for.” Most residents have been evicted from their homes and suddenly are free of the threats and demands of bill collectors. He was moved also by the steady support of strangers who want to help by bringing water, food, and clothing to a specific place of need.
Ballo says that, while he doesn’t believe that people should be allowed to take over property they don’t own, he does believe we have much to learn from Tent City. It would cost $1 million annually if the government housed them at taxpayers’ expense. Tent City, as it is running, is saving the state and the taxpayers that cost. Ballo decided to film the camp and its residents by moving in with them for a year. Rejecting the idea of assistants, interviews, lighting or soundtrack, he set out to win the trust of the residents.
He recently brought his film – Destiny’s Bridge – to Red Bank’s Two River Theater for its premiere performance. After the credits rolled in the packed house, a handful of Tent City residents took the stage to answer audience questions. Several have managed, after eviction and the rehabilitative atmosphere of Tent City to find jobs and places to live; others are on that path. One reported that by her birthday she will have her GED and certification to become a Microsoft secretary. Ballo had clearly won their trust.
What did we see? A community of 84 people living in individual tents with a deep pride in making that home of their own immaculate and their lives organized as they went about the work of the camp and community. That work included a productive vegetable garden for camp use, hammocks strung among the trees for rest and wood being split for the cold winter. We saw Minister Steve’s outrage at the tyranny of the Lakewood town fathers and watched as the police came to arrest him. Ballo sees small houses as the obvious extension to the Tent City solution. Most local zoning forbids these in favor of town-funded communal shelters where people get a bed and a meal at night but must leave to wander the streets by day.
Minister Steve envisions building self-worth in a homeless community called “Destiny’s Bridge.” It would be “a self-sustaining camp in a remote area where residents receive job training, counseling and support in preparation to return to society in a small house that is affordable to someone working for minimum wage.”
Ballo’s film is a giant step in enriching the public discussion of these issues that tend, without the understanding of the community that surrounds them, to fall into resentment and argument. The film is a great gift to the public as well as to the towns of New Jersey and the state government itself. Destiny’s Bridge shows us the potential of people whose emotional as well as physical needs are recognized on the way back.
Joan Ellis is the film critic for The Two River Times™.
‘Moth-ers’ on the Hunt
By Michele S. Byers
You may not notice moths, except when they’re fluttering around a porch light on a summer night or swarming around the sweaters in your closet. But these mainly nocturnal butterfly cousins are definitely worth a look.
New Jersey is home to approximately 2,000 moth species, with intriguing names like Beautiful Wood Nymph, Green Marvel and Azalea Sphinx. Some moths are smaller than a pinkie fingernail and others are larger than a fist. Wing patterns range from dazzling geometrics to absolute camouflage.
Moths have a new following among nature observers who appreciate their subtle beauty, their role in the food chain – and even their potential as a barometer of ecological health.
A number of New Jersey organizations have held naturalist-led “moth nights” this summer, particularly in conjunction with National Moth Week in late July. These events use a backlit screen to attract an amazing diversity of moths for close-up observation.
“It always blows people away, the variety of moths that we get,” says Blaine Rothauser, a biologist, naturalist and photographer who has led several moth nights this summer. “People say, ‘You’re kidding me! These are in my yard at night?’ ”
Moths make up 80 percent of the order Lepidoptera, which also includes butterflies. Moths pollinate plants and serve as food for New Jersey’s songbirds.
Rothauser, a Florham Park resident, admits to being obsessed by them. He’s conducting a statewide moth census, and has spent 250 nights over the past two years luring moths with a sodium vapor light and a screen made from a white drop cloth. He is looking at moths at 21 locations across the state from the Kittatinny Ridge in the north to the Delaware Bayshore in the south.
Rothauser believes that charting the locations of moths may provide valuable clues about the ecological health of a particular site.
He explains that some moths are “generalists” whose caterpillars feed on a wide variety of plants in preparation for their metamorphosis into winged creatures. Other moth caterpillars are “specialists,” feeding on only one or two specific plants. For instance, the Pandora Sphinx feeds only on grape plants, while the Eyed Paectes won’t eat anything but poison ivy!
Rothauser’s theory is that if a moth count shows a balance of generalists and specialists, the surrounding land likely has diverse plant life. On the other hand, if a count reveals nothing but generalists, a native plan restoration project may be in order.
Rothauser hopes to publish his findings in a scientific journal. Meanwhile, he’s spending many evenings with a light and screen, recording the moths that visit and occasionally spotting a moth never before seen in that place.
Moth watching is a great hobby because it can be done anywhere.
“Anyone could do it in their backyard and get a decent variety of moths on an August night,” Rothauser said.
It’s easy to be a “moth-er” – as many moth aficionados call themselves. Just set up a white sheet and a bright light outdoors. Sodium vapor and mercury vapor bulbs are best because they produce a broad color spectrum.
Choose a warm, still night if possible, although a little wind and cold won’t deter moths. Have a flashlight and field guide handy so you can identify your visitors. To boost moth attendance, some moth-ers put out flowers or sweet bait. One bait recipe calls for mashing together a ripe banana, some brown sugar and a splash of beer!
To learn more about moths, go to the National Moth Week website at http://nationalmothweek.org.
To find out more about Rothauser’s moth programs, go to www.brenvironmentalservices.com/presentations/the-silent-majority-moths-of-new-jersey.
And for more information about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michele S. Byers is the executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.
Two River Moment
No inline skates here! This photo is believed to have been taken during the 1940s or early 1950s. The place is the Singing Wheels Area Roller Rink on Route 35 at Patterson Avenue, Shrewsbury, at about the spot where Annie Sez is now located.