Miguel says he’d be frozen or dead out on the streets if it weren’t for warming centers that provide housing for the homeless during a Code Blue — an official designation that kicks in when temperatures hit 32 degrees with precipitation, or 25 degrees without precipitation.
Paul Hulse runs the warming center through his nonprofit Haven, Beat the Street. But he can’t provide any help until the Code Blue is in effect.
“I get calls all the time, and when we can’t open, they call me and say ‘why can’t we open,’ and I say, ‘I’m sorry, I have to stick to what the regulations are,’” said Hulse. “And just because of a temperature, I have to say no, and that really breaks my heart. I can’t sleep at night.”
It’s a given on a day when temperatures are in the single-digits and the real feel is in the negative double-digits. But some are wondering why the Code Blue doesn’t kick into effect as soon as temperatures dip below freezing. They say that’s when the homeless are at the greatest risk.
“It doesn’t logically make sense. Freezing is freezing — 32 whether you have precipitation or not precipitation. So we have passed a resolution which we sent to the Senate and the Assembly requesting that it be 32 degrees, irregardless of precipitation,” said Toms River Councilman-at-Large Maurice Hill.
Sen. Bob Singer, who represents Toms River, agreed, so he introduced legislation in the Senate Thursday to change the law that’s been in effect since 2017.
“We have to make sure that people that are out on the streets, unfortunately the homeless, many of them have mental illness problems, other problems, there has to be a safe place for them. A heated place for them. And let’s put the Code Blue at 32 degrees. Simple. You can’t make a mistake. Whether it’s raining or not. Whether it’s snowing or not. 32 degrees is freezing. That’s the temperature that people should be indoors,” said Singer.
Some homeless people said they’ve been turned away because temperatures weren’t cold enough.
“They have a Code Blue that sometimes they don’t have it here,” said Darryl, who is homeless.
“I slept in vehicles, which it wasn’t too comfortable, because it was cold,” said Timothy. “I didn’t have no blanket.”
Department of Heath Commissioner Shereef Elnahal says especially in cold weather, it’s critically important to stay inside.
“It’s dangerous to be out there for even a matter of minutes. You can get frostbite in as little as five minutes being out in cold weather like this. So it’s really important to just stay inside, if you can,” said Elnahal. “And if you don’t have shelter, please call 211 and you’ll be directed to one of many shelters that the state can provide during this bitter cold.”
Temperatures are expected to rise into the mid-50s next week, but the next 24 hours will still be well below freezing.