TOMS RIVER, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Two homeless encampments at the Jersey Shore are reeling following a fatal fire at one and an eviction threat at another.
An occupant of the camp known as “Tent City” in Lakewood, N.J. died in a fire early Saturday morning.
Lakewood police said an officer on routine patrol noticed the fire around 2:10 a.m. When he entered the woods to investigate, he found the badly burned victim not far from a tent that was fully engulfed in flames.
Details on the victim, including the person’s name, have not been disclosed pending notification of relatives. The cause of the fire remains under investigation, but authorities say the blaze does not appear to be suspicious.
The Lakewood encampment is in the process of being shut down after an agreement was reached with government officials back in April 2013.
The agreement specifies that any camp resident who refuses to be screened for welfare or housing benefits can be ejected from the camp.
It also guarantees residents one year of indoor housing, no more than two months of which can be in a motel. They can be evicted from the camp if they refuse the offer.
Lakewood and Ocean County officials have been trying to close the camp for years. It sits on township-owned land near a minor league baseball stadium.
The fatal fire came as authorities in nearby Toms River considered evicting a separate homeless encampment tucked up against the Garden State Parkway.
Residents of that camp, and an advocate trying to find them shelter, said the management of a nearby apartment complex threatened to evict the 10 people living in the woods on Monday.
“Let them come arrest me,” said Pat Maloney, one of the camp’s residents. “Then they’ll have to put me up somewhere.”
“This is not where we want to be,” added resident Janine Knapp. “But it’s where we are.”
Toms River police, however, said they have no plans to move against the camp until they determine if it occupies private or public property.
This wasn’t the first time someone has been killed in a fire at the Lakewood Tent City. One person was killed when a fast-moving fire swept through the homeless encampment in January 2012.
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