By Justin Decker
Towards the end of an exceptionally cold March, many homeless people are still wandering the snow-covered streets of Camden, NJ seeking any livable shelter by way of the hundreds of derelict buildings the city has left decaying and forgotten.
Camden currently holds over 860 abandoned housing properties, according to the city’s official website. While most are privately owned, the city has only slated a handful of them, just over 25, for redevelopment this year. In addition the number of Camden’s homeless population has increased by 11 percent from 2015 to 2016 as reported by Patch.com.
Bedrolls of homeless people in doorways of Camden churches. Photos by: Justin Decker
In downtown Camden, many homeless people occupy the streets and sidewalks. Laying in sleeping bags directly outside of unoccupied buildings.
One such building at 403 Federal Street is already serving as a makeshift shelter for someone. Outside of the one time bank lays a pile of blankets arranged as a bed meant for one. A torn cardboard box blocks the head of the resting area to block the wind, and the view of pedestrians and drivers from the congested roads.
While most passersby may feel a desire to demolish these buildings and leave the homeless to fend for themselves, alone on the streets, one member of the homeless community hopes to repurpose the old ruins of offices and banks into affordable housing for the cities homeless in an effort to provide the homeless with shelter and jobs.
Former veteran Ronald Boomer, 68, is one of several homeless veterans in Downtown Camden and he believes the city would benefit greatly from allowing the homeless access to abandoned shelters.
“I think they should get the homeless people together,” Boomer said. “Let them fix up the abandoned buildings for themselves, and let them work on it so they have a place to stay,” he continued. “I think that would get rid of the homeless as concern, and get rid of the abandoned buildings. It’s a win-win situation for the homeless and the city.”
Other residence from Camden share Boomer’s ideas, but with some differences. Brother Gerald, 48, a street vendor in downtown Camden, believes the city should grant the homeless vacant buildings by setting up small loans.
“If they aren’t going to restore them, they should give them to the homeless people,” said Gerald. “On like a low interest loan or something. And let the people have a place to live. I was homeless at one time in my life.”
Even residents in East Camden and Parkside believe the city needs start taking responsibility for the abandoned buildings in the area. Lonnie Ford, 24, from Parkside, Camden says his housing situation is “trash” and that the area would benefit from more money being spent of housing renovations.
Boarded up houses in Camden. Photos by: Justin Decker
“They say the city ain’t got enough more,” he said. “But all of these abandoned houses, they need to start fixing these abandoned houses instead of building all these places in the city. Like all of these charter schools in the city. Why not fix up all the abandoned houses for all the homeless people out here.”
Ford also mentioned how his housing situation is only slightly better than that of the homeless. Talking about how his landlord doesn’t fix anything in his home, he says Camden needs put more effort into fixing what is broken, or the conditions will continue to be, “just livable.”