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Camden, an impoverished city, struggles to survive budget cuts

Camden, N. J., today is a long way from the city it once was. From the mid 1800s into the early 1960s the city was a booming manufacturing town, and home to Campbell’s soup, RCA Victor and the largest shipbuilding company in the world. The poet Walt Whitman lived here and he wrote of the city, “I dream’d in a dream, I saw a city invincible to the attacks of the whole of the rest of the earth.”

Scott Thomson has been on the Camden police force for 17 years. In 2008, he was just 36 years old when he became police chief of the second most crime-ridden city in the nation. Thomson has made some headway. In the last two years homicide rates have dropped by more than 30 percent but progress is slow going and overall violent crime has been difficult to reign in.

Dana Redd was elected mayor of Camden in 2009 on a platform to quote, “unite and transform Camden into a safe vibrant community.” And she believes in the city’s inherent potential, in its waterfront location just across the river from Philadelphia and in the possibility of one day turning around the city of nearly 80,000 people.

But there are huge obstacles to Camden’s revival. The city faces a more than $26 million budget shortfall this year and in an unprecedented move for such a crime ridden city, Mayor Redd cut a third of the fire department and roughly half the police force.

Camden’s story is not unique.  The country has dozens of postindustrial cities that find themselves unable to meet the basic needs of their citizens. Lawrence, Mass., shuttered half its fire stations; Detroit has been ordered to close half its schools; and in Flint, Mich., the police headquarters is now closed on the weekends.

For years, cities like Camden have turned to their states to make up for their budget shortfalls. But in the current financial climate the states have their own problems. Massive budget deficits on both the local and state level beg the question of how cities like Camden that have long struggled to provide their citizens with the basics will survive the nation’s financial crisis.

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  • The_IronMan

    The report stated that monies of $175 million and $69 million were received by Camden — sounds like something is amiss in the management of the money and the budget. I bet there’s more that’s gone on under the covers than meets the eye.

  • Kate Mclaughlin

    Camden is a sad story, and in part because it was afforded the chance to become a sad story. The decimation of the town occurred because those in power were greedy and cared not for the people, but for themselves, be it the politicians in power, the slum lords, or those participating in crime. Newark, NJ has a similar situation, but not to the degree that Camden does.

    What I found heart wrenching during my time in Camden is the sentiment of some of the youth through 20 somethings who have no hope, and that no hope has permeated from one generation to the next and become a sad expectation of existence. I now work in Newark, I see the same desperate situation amongst the poor. I have see the hell families go through when they are told their child has died, and I have also seen people wounded who wear it as an honor badge.

    These communities need finances, leadership, and all of the things that were mentioned but they also need hope and they need the chance at achievement, but they are starting out on their life’s journey in failed schools and that is truly a shame.