The city of Lakewood, New Jersey, eliminated their homeless shelter and made the process of getting access to their remaining services hard for people to navigate, however, their town square wasn't cleaning up. Rather than allow homeless people to rest in the shade of their trees, the city has cut down over 30 trees, ruining the park for everyone.
Lakewood Mayor Ray Coles told the Asbury Park Press, which led reporting on the decision, that the move was necessary. He cited complaints received by the police department's Quality of Life unit about homeless people. "They were harassing people, defecating between the cars and residents were complaining," he said, according to the paper.
Brigham said there was no warning or debate. One morning, when he came to deliver donated produce from a local farm to local homeless people (something he often does), the trees had already been cut down and thrown into a dumpster. "It didn't take me long to figure out that they did it just because of the homeless," he told me. "I said to myself, 'That's pretty extreme.' "
We sat at a concrete bench with a built-in chessboard. Brigham craned his neck, trying to help me imagine what it had looked like before the trees were cut. "I'm just gonna count on this side: one, two, three, four, five, six." He turned to the other side and continued. "One, two, three, four, five, six. That's 12. Then there's on the outside. They cut maybe around 30 trees." We'd only been sitting a few minutes, but I could see Brigham turn slightly red, and sweat began to bead down the side of his face. "I mean, it was beautiful. These trees were big. They were probably about 15 feet tall. The shade would cover this table. We'd be sitting in the shade here," he said.
There were two high school boys with bikes sitting in the municipal parking lot with their backs to the town square. I asked Onesimo, a 15-year-old, if he knew what happened here. "They cut the trees down, I guess, which is sad because it really helped the beauty of the place," he said. People came to "chillax in the shade. Kids would come here and play, but the sun is really strong now. You're basically asking to get sunburn, so no one comes here anymore."