When the temperature dips below freezing, the homeless run a higher risk of weather-related illness, which is why many local governments issue Code Blue warnings and increase available shelters.
Frigid weather across South Jersey this week has prompted a flurry of Code Blue warnings, but programs for the homeless differ based on where you are.
In Bridgeton, the Code Blue program is run completely by volunteers. Mayor Albert Kelly and a collection of faith-based leaders devised a plan to turn churches all across the city into warming centers for local homeless.
“We have volunteers come to man the church, but also we have people who come to serve various meals to the clients. We have a dinner and in the morning we have a light breakfast available for them,” said Kelly.
Bridgeton stepped up its Code Blue efforts after the 2013 death of a homeless man who became stuck in a Salvation Army clothing bin while trying to find shelter from the cold.
Kelly said the all-volunteer initiative is helping to unite the Cumberland County city.
“When you have a common enemy, it seems to bring people together. And the enemy is the cold weather and the lack of shelter,” said Kelly. “It’s brought out the best in our city.”
Salem County is developing a Code Blue program which, like Bridgeton’s, will be run completely outside of local government.
Under Camden County’s Code Blue alert this week, local officials as well as nonprofit workers fanned out to help the homeless. Shelters opened across the county and in Camden City, and Volunteers of America outreach teams hit the streets to connect homeless people with available resources.
“We usually go out and see if the individual wants to come in. Usually on the first try, they don’t,” said Taneesha Marshall, program director at Volunteers of America. “But … we can sway them into at least applying for services or coming in to get a shelter bed or a shower and cleaned up and, you know, warm clothing.”
Code Blue alerts were also issued this week by Cape May and Burlington counties, which offered more detailed information to residents online and through telephone hotlines.
New Jersey residents can also call 211 or visit the agency’s website for more information on available resources and how to keep warm on frigid days.