The Code Blue Program: A Multidisciplinary Approach Enables Central Jersey Legal Services to Help Shelter More Homeless Individuals During the Winter Months
In an effort to provide shelter for the homeless during the cold winter months, and to get chronically homeless individuals housed, Central Jersey Legal Services (CJLS) worked with the Continuum of Care in Union County, New Jersey to establish the Code Blue Program in 2010.
The Continuum of Care is a cooperative group made up of county officials, service providers, and CJLS staff. The group pushed the county and each other to come up with a plan for a number of years.
In addition to trying to shelter the homeless and prevent death and injury from hypothermia during the winter months, the program seeks to get as many homeless individuals into the service network as possible and get eligible homeless individuals approved for state-funded welfare and emergency assistance.
Prior to the program, there wasn’t a system in place to address the concerns about people sleeping outside during periods of extreme weather conditions. But the Continuum of Care was able to convince Union County officials to put money behind the program. Each county in New Jersey now has its own version of the Code Blue Program; Union County’s program has been the model for the state.
The Union County Code Blue now works like this:
- If an overnight temperature is below 25 degrees Fahrenheit or below 32 degrees Fahrenheit with precipitation, the Union County Office of Emergency Management calls a Code Blue by 10 a.m.
- The alert goes out to the county’s Department of Human Services, which notifies emergency shelters, community organizations, and county police
- The individual, with or without help from the county and municipal police, must arrive at the Union County Division of Social Services between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. that day to get housed. If the shelters are full, then they stay in a motel.
- The next day, following a night in a shelter or hotel, the individual goes to the county’s welfare office to fill out forms and get into a system.
The point of all of this is to prevent anyone from suffering an injury due to exposure to extreme weather or freezing to death, and to get homeless individuals into a system—into a shelter and off the streets—then into the care of someone who can shepherd them through the system.
Representatives from the county, shelters, and CJLS meet every other week during the winter season to work out problems in the system as they arise and to learn who these people are, why they weren’t already in a system, and how to get them into one.
Much of the program’s success in Union County can be attributed to the people at the table for these meetings—CJLS staff with knowledge of regulations, the shelter providers, and the Union County Division of Social Services staff, whose involvement in the process is key to the entire effort.