Destiny’s Bridge Puts Homelessness on Agenda at Rutgers

by Nicole Murray

Minister Steve Brigham has been fighting for the poor to have affordable housing for over a decade.

“In America, there is class discrimination against the poor,” said Brigham, Tent City Founder and the main character in the documentary Destiny’s Bridge. “We have left them out of being able to get entry level housing. This problem is relatively easy to fix. We need to construct small homes on small pieces of property so people can afford it at minimum-wage”.


Minister Steve Brigham, founder of Tent City.

The movie, which was shown at Rutgers University on Monday, April 14, explores the lives of a group of homeless people and is meant to create awareness of the flaws within the economic system that leave some people without a place to live. Immediately after the film, students were given an opportunity to ask questions and have a discussion with the filmmaker Jack Ballo, the film’s main character Steven Brigham, journalist and Rutger’s professor Hank Kalet, and Assistant Director of Programs for Ending Homelessness in Middlesex County Aaron Kennedy

“Leaders are ignoring their responsibility,” said Brigham. “There needs to be social and economic changes because the standards are set too high and people are slipping through the cracks in the process.”

The film follows a group of people living in tents in the middle of the woods and explores each person’s story as the group tries to fight for affordable housing.  Tent City was founded approximately nine years ago by Brigham. A large majority of resources in Tent City are donations, as churches, residents, and companies were encouraged to donate food, clothing, and gift cards. This was so Brigham could purchase what he thought the town needed most at the time.

The process of filming consisted of Ballo observing residents, as if he were a fly on the wall.

“We filmed over 100 hours of footage,” Ballo said. “The stories did not just happen; we had to wait for it to happen. Nothing [in this film] was planned.”

Ellwood and Cynthia

Ellwood and Cynthia

Destiny’s Bridge is the name of the transitional housing facility that Brigham hopes to create to help people that are homeless re-establish themselves before re-entering the real world. The first step involves dealing with the immediate physical emergencies that are commonly seen among the homeless. This could mean any issues ranging from being mal nourished to other medical injuries that they could not previously afford to treat. The next step entails achieving mental stability, which could have been hampered through the harassment of local residents or living day to day without knowing where their next meal will come from. Finally, once the person has been deemed both physically and mentally healthy, the goal will be to provide them with housing.
Throughout the movie, Brigham is arrested multiple times and the tent encampment is visited by police, who harass the homeless because of complaints from the near-by residents in Lakewood. Lakewood residents complained of the second-hand smoke from Tent City’s heaters, say they are traumatized from incidents of public urination, and have kids that are scared to be outside alone because of the homeless people living nearby. The attempt to close Tent City was initially denied by the Ocean County Superior Court Judge Joseph Foster in 2012, though a consent order will move the homeless into housing for a year and should result in the encampment’s closing in May.

Since the Destiny Bridge’s release, more awareness has been created and there is hope that action will follow soon after. There is still no shelter in Ocean County but there is talk of one being built and opened within the near future.

“The homeless are now being given a years’ worth of housing in an apartment,” said Brigham of the deal made in 2013. “There is still no full-time shelter but now there is at least a year for people to get back on their feet while we hope that a shelter will be up and running by the end of the year”.

In order to get involved, like the Destiny’s Bridge Facebook Page to stay informed and aware on the issue as decisions regarding housing and a shelter are made. Also, become part of the mailing list to receive emails and fliers.