The wooden planks that served as sidewalks were lifted off the mud and piled by the road. The poles and tarp that sheltered the TV room were broken down, revealing a huge Zenith with a cable hookup.

And common areas, littered with the cumulative debris from hundreds of residents over several years, were raked clean.

Related stories

Camden's Tent City, a homeless encampment on an I-676 exit ramp that has become a source of fascination for reporters and donors - and a dilemma for government and social service agencies - prepared to shut down Wednesday.

And unlike the last time, when a planned April 15 closing deadline was met with resistance, Tent City residents were thrilled with the prospect.

That's because a South Jersey faith-based nonprofit agency called the Nehemiah Group has essentially adopted the 50 or so residents of Tent City, promising to take care of them for the next year.

But first, it's a day at the spa.

Tent City residents, according to Micah Khan, chief operating officer of the Nehemiah Group, will be whisked off Thursday morning to an upscale hotel in Mount Laurel, where they will be treated to manicures, pedicures, facials, haircuts, massages, and a splash in the pool.

After a night at the hotel, all expenses paid, Nehemiah will put the residents up at its 50-bed facility in Bridgeton, N.J. Over three weeks, professionally trained workers will assess their needs - mental health, drug rehabilitation, financial - before placing them, rent-free for one year, in condominiums in Camden, Lindenwold, and Bridgeton.

All the while, the Tent City residents will be provided free educational services and job training.

Sound too good to be true?

Not for Tent City residents, who said they believe their time to move on has really come.

"They've got everybody believing around here," said James Boggs, spokesman for the self-governing Tent City, also known as Transition Park.

Khan is a grandson of the late Mustapha M. Khan, a longtime Camden doctor known for treating the impoverished, and son of Amir Khan, pastor of Solid Rock Worship Center in Clementon, which solicited donations for the project.

In total, Khan said, he and his father collected $250,000, although he declined to detail where the money came from. He said his father, who is in the telecommunications business, relied heavily on business associates.

The Khans only became aware of Tent City in the last several weeks, and Micah Khan credited his father with quickly finding the money: "When my dad sees somebody drowning, he doesn't think, he reacts."

Lorenzo "Jamaica" Banks, the "mayor" of Tent City, said he would finally leave the camp he created a few years ago and move inside with the others - despite his previous assertions that he doesn't "do inside."

County officials said the Tent City Task Force, made up of dozens of social service providers, had been notified of the plan for the closing.

Yet Camden spokesman Robert Corrales noted that "the city has not signed off on any entity or group seeking to relocate the residents of Tent City."

Hal Miller, homeless coordinator for the Volunteers Of America chapter in Camden, said his organization would assist Nehemiah going forward.

Asked if Tent City was really closing on Thursday, Miller - who is closer to the homeless population than almost anyone else in the city - declared, "Definitely."

Contact staff writer Matt Katz at 856-779-3919 or