N.J. homeless find refuge in the woods

Homeless people are living in the woods near Lakewood, New Jersey. Now the town wants them to leave.
CBS News

The economic recovery may be painfully slow for most Americans. But for the more than 630,000 people who are homeless, the improvements can seem non-existent. For them, it's about surviving and in New Jersey, even that's threatened. CBS News correspondent Tony Guida looks at one particular group.

Angelo Villanueva was working as a mason until the housing market collapsed.

"I lost my job, lost my insurance, lost my car, lost my apartment," he said.

For nine months, he's been living in the woods near Lakewood, New Jersey, where we first met him last fall.

"I never thought I'd be homeless," he said. "I used to think homeless people were bums, but actually it can happen to anyone at any time."

Marilyn Berenzwaig was making $100,000 a year when she was laid off from her job as a textile designer.

"The last few years of living in New York," she said, "I felt I was hanging on by my fingernails."

"Now you're living in the woods in new jersey in a tent. What's that like?" asked Guida.

"It's very hard," said Berenzwaig. "You're constantly thinking about what you need to do to prepare for the rain, to prepare for the snow."

Minister Steven Brigham founded Tent City five years ago when he learned there were no homeless shelters in Ocean County. "We'll probably have about twice as many people going into this winter as we did last winter," he said.

About 80 people live here. "It's a living demonstration of what the economy is doing to people. These have no other safety net to fall back on, so they are falling into Tent City," said Brigham.

Lakewood's Deputy Mayor Steven Langert says the residents are squatters. He wants them evicted.

"There are emergency programs, federal programs, Medicaid and other federal housing programs that these people can take advantage of," he argued.

Now the residents brave winter in the woods while a judge considers the future of Tent City.

On Friday, Judge Joseph Foster denied Lakewood's request to disband the camp. "There is a governmental responsibility here to care for the poor at some level," he said. He ordered mediation to decide how that responsibility might be met.

The outcome will prove crucial to Angelo Villanueva, who continues to live here even though he found a job at a recycling plant.

"They're paying me a fraction of what I used to make," he said, "but I'm still gonna need this place because it's still not enough for me to afford housing."

How much longer he can call Tent City home is very much in doubt.