Where Do the Homeless Go When it Gets Too Cold?
When temperatures were headed for the teens and single digits last week, warming centers opened their doors in Cumberland County's major cities. Several facilities were made available in Perth Amboy as well, along with Burlington and Camden Counties. Essex County also set up warming stations and shelters - in their case, for the first time.
Code Blue alerts put a plan in action that takes at-risk individuals off the streets during stints of extremely cold temperatures. Depending on the individual county's plan, the homeless could be led to a local church or soup kitchen, and be provided with food and water.
The service is not provided everywhere in New Jersey, but under a measure from Assemblyman Bob Andrzejczak, that would change.
His legislation requires that every county have a Code Blue program on the books to shelter the homeless during severe weather events.
The bill describes a "severe weather event" as a snow emergency, excessive cold or heat, storms or other weather-related conditions, which may include temperatures equal to or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
The measure sets a standard for when and how these alerts would be issued. Some counties initiate a Code Blue when the temperatures dip below freezing. Others wait until the mercury falls below 15 degrees.
According to Andrzejczak, 14 of New Jersey's 21 counties have a Code Blue protocol in place.
"It's really unfortunate that you would have men, women and children that are going through a really rough time, and not give shelter or food and water to really keep them going," Andrzejczak said. "They're still human beings, and we need to treat them as such."
The assemblyman said counties would not have to take on extra costs all by themselves if they got churches and local organizations involved.
Under Andrezejczak's Code Blue, law enforcement would be notified of the need to locate at-risk individuals and arrange transportation to an appropriate shelter. Also, the county office of emergency management would be required to conduct a public awareness campaign, ensuring the general public knows of the program's existence and the importance of spotting folks who need help the most.