Legislation sponsored by Senator Robert Singer and Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean to expand Code Blue protections to help local officials better care for the homeless during winter weather events has cleared the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee.
Sens. Robert Singer and Tom Kean’s bill would expand Code Blue to help local officials better care for the homeless during winter weather events. (©iStock)
Currently, a Code Blue is triggered when temperatures drop to 32 degrees with precipitation, or 25 degrees with no precipitation. The bill advanced by the committee today, S-3422, 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.
S-3422 was introduced in January in response to concerns raised by local officials in Ocean County, who expressed that the current Code Blue standard has limited their ability to protect the homeless during dangerously cold weather.
“I was devastated to hear that some of the most vulnerable people in our community were turned away from warming shelters in Ocean County this winter, due to limitations in a law that was designed to protect them,” 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. I have no doubt that our commonsense efforts to strengthen Code Blue will save lives.”
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 State legislature to adjust the current Code Blue standard to a flat 32 degrees, so that people in need can access shelter, regardless of the level of precipitation.
S-3422 is part of a package of bills sponsored by Kean and Singer to strengthen Code Blue protections for the homeless and nearly homeless statewide. Their companion bill, S-3511, which would ensure people have access to on-site services and care during a Code Blue alert, cleared a Senate committee last week.
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.
“Last week, we took another crucial step to ensure anyone who seeks shelter during a Code Blue alert has access to these resources. I’m glad that we are continuing our efforts to strengthen Code Blue now, so that next winter, people at risk don’t have to go without the support they need,” Kean added.
New Jersey’s current Code Blue law also 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 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.
“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. We need to strengthen the current standards to keep people safe,” 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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