New Bill Drafted in Response to Concerns that NJ’s Homeless Need More Protection from Severe Cold
In response to concerns that local officials in Toms River and throughout New Jersey are struggling to authorize shelter for the homeless during winter weather events, Senator Robert Singer and Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean will introduce legislation to change New Jersey’s Code Blue standards to ensure no one pays the price for language in the law.
In response to local concerns, Sens. Robert Singer and Tom Kean will introduce legislation to change New Jersey’s Code Blue standards. (©iStock)
Currently, a Code Blue is triggered when temperatures reach 25 degrees Fahrenheit or colder without precipitation or 32 degree or colder with precipitation. The new bill would eliminate the 25 degree standard, so that a Code Blue would be triggered as soon as the temperature falls to 32 degrees, regardless of whether or not there is precipitation at the time.
The bill will be formally introduced during the next Senate quorum on Thursday, Jan. 31.
“I was devastated to hear that the homeless are being turned away from shelters in Ocean County this winter,” Senator Singer (R-30) said. “Snow or no snow, when the temperature reaches 32 degrees, it’s time to get inside. I cannot even begin to imagine the terror someone must feel when it’s freezing and you have nowhere to go. Code Blue was designed to save lives. No one should be forced to suffer because of problematic language in a law that was meant to help people.”
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.
The Asbury Park Press this week reported that 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.
In response, the Toms River Town Council called on the State legislature to adjust the Code Blue standard to a flat 32 degrees. Singer and Kean immediately began drafting the bill as soon as this was reported.
Senator Kean was a sponsor of the original Code Blue State law, which was enacted in May of 2017.
“I sponsored the original Code Blue law so that anyone in need of shelter during severe weather could find a place to stay warm, and hopefully connect with a caring volunteer or public worker who could help them find the resources they need to get back on their feet. If the current standards aren’t enough, then we need to adjust the law,” Senator Kean (R-21) said.
“There are more than 9,000 homeless people in New Jersey right now. We can’t let a single person spend a night out in dangerously cold weather. I hope that we can get this passed as soon as possible. Winter won’t wait. Neither should we,” Kean said.
Senator Singer also recently 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 is unacceptable in its current form, 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.
“Homelessness is a crisis circumstance every day but with severe temperatures it can be a matter of life or death. We need to strengthen current initiatives,” Singer added. “I welcome the partnership and support of the local officials I met with, and all those who work hard every day to help our homeless get the care and shelter they need.”
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