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Senator Robert Singer

Senator Bob Singer

NOW LAW: Singer/Kean Bills Updating Code Blue to Better Protect NJ’s Homeless

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A pair of bills sponsored by Senator Robert Singer and Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean expanding Code Blue protections for the homeless during winter weather events has been signed into law.

A pair of bills sponsored by Sen. Robert Singer and Sen. Tom Kean expanding Code Blue protections for the homeless during winter weather events has been signed into law. (©iStock)

“When the temperature is predicted to drop below freezing, it’s time to get inside,” Singer (R-30) said. “No one, especially New Jersey’s most vulnerable residents, should be left out in the cold. I cannot imagine the horror someone feels when it’s freezing and you have nowhere to go. Our common-sense updates to strengthen Code Blue protections will save lives.”

The package of bills sponsored by Kean and Singer, S-3422 and S-3511, strengthens the Code Blue program to better protect New Jersey’s homeless and nearly homeless residents.

S-3422 was introduced in January 2019 in response to concerns raised by local officials in Ocean County, who said the current Code Blue standard has limited their ability to protect the homeless during dangerously cold weather.

Previously, a Code Blue was triggered when temperatures dropped to 32 degrees with precipitation or 25 degrees with no precipitation.

Now law, S-3422, eliminates the 25 degree standard and triggers a Code Blue as soon as the temperature falls to 32 degrees, regardless of whether or not there is precipitation at the time.

More than a dozen people who spent the night in a Toms River warming Center on Christmas Eve were unable to access shelter the next day because the temperature had risen to 27 degrees, which given the lack of precipitation, exceeded the current Code Blue standard, according to an Asbury Park Press report.

Shortly thereafter, the Toms River Town Council called on the Legislature to adjust the Code Blue standard to a flat 32 degrees, so that people in need can access shelter, regardless of the level of precipitation.

S-3511, also signed into law today, authorizes the New Jersey Commissioner of Health to establish guidelines for offering certain healthcare and social services to at-risk individuals at a warming center.

Under the new law, those services could include vaccinations, physical and mental health screenings, and referrals for substance abuse treatment and various social services.

S-3511 authorizes a coordinator to create a volunteer registry of healthcare workers, social service providers, and support personnel who could consent to voluntarily provide these services at a warming center during a Code Blue alert.

The legislation states that volunteers would be protected by New Jersey’s Good Samaritan law, meaning they would not be liable for any civil damages as a result of their efforts to provide care or treatment in good faith during a Code Blue alert.

Senator Kean was a sponsor of the original Code Blue State law, enacted in 2017.

“Exposure to the elements, especially freezing temperatures, can cause frostbite or death,” Kean (R-21) said. “I sponsored the original Code Blue law so that anyone in need of shelter during severe weather could find a place to stay warm. It’s our moral duty to ensure that every New Jerseyan has a safe and warm place to stay when the temperature is dangerously cold.”

New Jersey’s Code Blue law requires County offices of emergency management to coordinate with municipalities with a documented homeless population of at least 10 people to develop consistent Code Blue alert plans throughout the county. After a county emergency management coordinator declares a Code Blue, local law enforcement is notified so they can go out on patrols and locate at-risk individuals.

Following the events at the Toms River warming center and the subsequent calls for action last winter, Senator Singer met with Lakewood Mayor Ray Coles and Toms River Council Members Terrence Turnbach and Laurie Huryk, where they reached a collaborative agreement that the Code Blue Program was unacceptable in its form at that time, and discussed the need for a change in statewide standards to better ensure the safety and well-being of the at-risk population that needs shelter in extreme weather situations.

“When someone is homeless, it is a crisis regardless of the weather, but when the temperature dips dangerously low, not having a roof over your head becomes a matter of life or death,” Singer added. “By strengthening the standards of the Code Blue program, we’ll be better able to keep people safe.”

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