Written and photographed by: Christopher Occhicone
Tent City, which had up to 100 residents at any given time, could be many things to many people. Some residents had planned badly, fell on hard times, and ended up in TC. They used it as a place to live cheaply and get their lives back together. Others were hardcore users, criminals, people who liked the lawlessness of Tent City. Then there were people who could see themselves moving on but were in too bad a rut. People like Chris and Eve.
Chris and Eve have been in and out of Tent City for several years up until its closing in August 2014. When I met them, Eve was 30 and Chris was 19. Both were alcoholics. Both were charming and polite when sober, both could have vicious tempers when drunk. Eve often talked longingly about her tight knit family growing up and dream of a day when she and Chris would get it together and have the same. Chris talked of growing up in Puerto Rico and wanted to take Eve there.
However, they couldn’t stop drinking. Once they began, they continued until they dropped. Most nights, Eve would become belligerent, accosting other residents for not respecting her seniority in the camp, accusing friends of stealing her booze, calling Chris a faggot in front of his friends. Chris would usually try to console her. He was interested in having fun and keeping it light, as if he took for granted that they were in a bad situation but felt that they couldn’t possibly stay there forever. Usually but not always. Eve often physically provoked Chris and he sometimes retaliated. He spent time in Ocean County jail for assaulting her and gave her more than one black eye or split lip.
As the closing date for the camp moved closer, the best equipped to live on the outside moved on. Those left were either the most sick, most addicted, most criminal, and the likes of Eve and Chris. As part of an incentive to leave TC, the town of Lakewood offered eligible residents, either a year free housing or an immediate cash payment of $3000. Eve wanted a house, a yard, a swing for a future child. But Chris took the cash. He and Tim, another TC resident, bought a car and enough marijuana to set themselves as dealers. They decided to steal plates and were caught almost immediately. Meanwhile Eve became pregnant. Chris, who had been secretly having an affair with Tim, abandoned her, heading to PA with Tim. Eve disappeared shortly after the camp closed.
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