Legislation sponsored by Senator Robert Singer and Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean expanding Code Blue protections to help local officials better care for the homeless during winter weather events has passed the State Senate.
Sens. Robert Singer and Tom Kean’s bill that would expand Code Blue to help local officials better care for the homeless during winter weather events has passed the Senate. (©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 Senate, 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 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.
“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 to imagine the horror someone feels when it’s freezing and you have nowhere to go. Our common-sense 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 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 the Senate in May.
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 New Jerseyans without a roof over their heads have a safe and warm place to stay when the temperature is frigid. If our current Code Blue standards are not adequate, then we need to adjust the law.”
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,” Singer added. “We need to strengthen the current standards to keep people safe.”
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