As a blizzard named Jonas barrels up the East Coast, volunteer-run winter shelters in Bucks County are gearing up to get people who sleep outside in from the cold.
Advocates for the Homeless and Those in Need is a nonprofit that runs the only “Code Blue” shelter in Lower Bucks. When the mercury dips below 26 degrees, AHTN declares a Code Blue and staffs an overnight shelter in rotating locations. When there’s a snowstorm, the Code Blue becomes a “Code White.”
On a recent frigid evening, the group was setting up at Woodside Church in Yardley. Green cots filled the church auditorium and volunteers dished out pulled pork and coleslaw.
Greg Crockenberg and his service dog, Sarah, have come to the shelter a few times since the trailer he lived in burned down this summer.
“So, that’s a setback,” he said. When he’s not at the shelter, he and Sarah sleep in his truck.
In the auditorium, volunteer Hilary Walp helped sign in guests. Of the 36 people sleeping in Woodside that night, about two-thirds took buses that AHTN runs to the shelter. Each night that there’s a winter emergency, the groups stops at parking lots and nearby encampments to pick up people who might want to come inside.
Walp said when weather makes roads impassable, the buses can’t pick up or drop off. Shelter volunteers and guests hunker down.
“For a Code White … we will bring our guests in on Friday night, they’ll stay through the day Saturday, and, when the roads are passable on Sunday, the buses will take them back,” said Walp.
Many of Bucks County’s homeless live in tents, and heavy snow can damage their belongings, according to Karen Mineo, managing consultant with AHTN. Some may be reluctant to stay in for the whole weekend when they could also be making money shoveling snow, she said.
Even during a blizzard, the advocacy group depends on volunteers to open the shelter doors. On a normal night, AHTN needs 18 volunteers to sign up or it won’t open the shelter. For a Code White, they cut back to six.
Still, filling that need hasn’t been too difficult said Walp. “There’s certain volunteers, we just love it. It’s like our job,” she said. “If you got to be at your job in the snow, you go.”
Other nonprofit and volunteer groups run shelters similar to this one in Central and Upper Bucks. Montgomery County officials said they will have emergency shelters open for the entire weekend as well.