Philadelphia makes outreach to homeless under Code Blue

The city of Philadelphia remains under a Cold Blue alert. This means the city can enforce its Court Ordered Transportation to Shelter powers to help get homeless people off the streets because of the cold.


How it works

Code Blue is put into effect when the ‘real feel’ temperature drops below 20 degrees and the lives of homeless people are at a high risk. It went into effect on Jan. 6.

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Under the city’s Code Blue, homeless people are taken to shelters. If necessary, police stations and/or other public buildings may also be made available for the homeless.

The city contracts out with Project Home to handle the outreach effort, which coordinates five agencies that send out teams in vans to offer rides to the homeless.

Beth Lewis is program director for the outreach coordination center at Project Home. She says the teams mainly focus on Center City, West Philadelphia and a few well-known spots where the homeless gather such as along Columbus Blvd.

As for Northwest Philadelphia, Lewis said that her teams will respond to any call made in Philadelphia County but outreach teams are not in the area otherwise.

If you do see someone in need of shelter you can call the Outreach Coordination Center at 215-232-1984.


Common myth about Code Blue

One misconception about Code Blue is that the outreach teams can take a homeless person against his will to a shelter. But it’s not quite that simple.

Lewis explained that the city does have a Court Ordered Transportation to Shelter power. In order for that to be used, Lewis said, an outreach team would contact the City Solicitor’s office to try to get a judge’s approval for the case in question.

It would then be a police matter to transport the person to the shelter. Even then, Lewis pointed out, the law only mandates that the city transport the person. The homeless person could leave the shelter at anytime.

Code Blue is just one of weather triggered alerts in Philadelhia. The city uses a Code Gray for severe weather like extremely high winds and heavy rain when the temperature is above 32 degrees and declares a Code Red when temperatures of 95 degrees or higher are expected for at least three consecutive days.


Annual homeless count

Project Home is gearing up for it’s annual winter survey of homeless individuals in Philadelphia. On early Thursday morning, Lewis’ teams will scour the city to estimate the number of people living on the streets. Last year there were 297, which did not include the number of people in shelters. That is a number the city provides.

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