Bill to shelter homeless individuals during inclement weather heads to governor
WASHINGTON, DC – (RealEstateRama) — The New Jersey State Senate voted in favor of a bill that requires county emergency management coordinators to establish a Code Blue Program to shelter homeless people during severe weather events. Approved by the Assembly back in December, the bill now goes to Governor Christie to be signed into law.
“Homelessness is an emergency every day across NJ and especially on bad weather days like we’ve had recently,” said Laura Rodgers, chief program officer, Jewish Family Service of Atlantic & Cape May Counties. “With Code Blue legislation in place, our citizens experiencing homelessness will be better protected from exposure in extreme weather situations.”
Under the bill, each county must develop a plan for issuing a Code Blue alert to municipalities, social service agencies, and non-profit organizations that provide services to at-risk individuals and are located within the county’s borders. This applies to all municipalities with a documented homeless population of at least ten persons. A coordinator designated by the county must declare a Code Blue alert after evaluating weather forecasts and advisories produced by the National Weather Service that predict the hazardous weather conditions in the county within 24 to 48 hours.
In a review of Code Blue programs across the state, the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey (the Network) discovered a wide range of responses to county level implementation.
“In our review of county programs, we learned that some are doing an exceptional job. But we were astounded to learn that some, including ones publicly identified as Code Blue resources, were not aware of that designation or had no idea what Code Blue is. One told our researcher that homelessness is not even a problem in their area. Clearly, statewide standards are desperately needed” said Staci Berger, president and chief executive officer of the Network.
“With the arrival of the coldest weather this year we need Code Blue statewide in NJ now more than ever,” said Richard Brown, chief executive officer, Monarch Housing Associates. “Code Blue is the first step in ending homelessness in NJ. By providing shelter we can help our homeless neighbors find a place to call home.”
The Code Blue alert plan includes a provision for emergency warming centers. These warming centers may be provided by designated volunteer organizations that will receive planning support from the county but operate autonomously in response to an alert. The bill gives “good samaritan” protection from civil liability to anyone who, during implementation of a Code Blue alert plan, provides the services of an emergency warming center to at-risk individuals.
“The level of services available throughout the state varies widely, which is dangerous and unacceptable. People should not be at risk of freezing to death anywhere in our state,” added Berger. “New Jersey cannot ignore our neighbors who need shelter, and especially in extreme weather. It is simply unconscionable and inhumane. We thank the co-sponsors of this bill and the homelessness prevention advocates who fought to prevent anyone from being left out in the cold.”
About the Housing and Community Development Network of NJ
The Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey is the statewide association of more than 250 community development corporations, individuals and other organizations that support the creation of affordable homes, economic opportunities, and strong communities. For more information on the Network, visit www.hcdnnj.org.
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