Code Blue Homeless Emergency Shelter Initiative
In an effort to respond to the plight of homeless individuals and families during severe winter weather, Union County Department of Human Service, in concert with the Division of Emergency Management and Union County Police implemented a Countywide Code Blue in December 2007 to prevent death and injury among homeless people during periods of extreme weather conditions. Union County’s Code Blue initiative is the first and only countywide service of its kind in New Jersey. As a model for innovation and responsiveness, Code Blue received the 2009 Achievement Award from the National Association of Counties.
A Code Blue alert starts with the Union County Office of Emergency Management, which transmits warnings of severe, potentially life-threatening cold weather from the National Weather Service. The threshold for activating Code Blue is 25 degrees, or 32 degrees with precipitation. The alert goes out to the county’s Department of Human Services, which notifies emergency shelters, community organizations, and the County Police. The County Police get the word out to law enforcement personnel in all 21 municipalities. The early warning gives communities time to identify and locate people potentially in need of help. Shelters get time to arrange for extra beds using cots provided by the County. County and municipal police go on the lookout for persons needing shelter, and assist them with transportation.
All Code Blue shelter placements are made by the Division of Social Services and an overnight emergency phone number is provided to local police. Along with providing temporary shelter, Code Blue helps tackle issues related to chronic homelessness. Persons seeking emergency shelter on a Code Blue alert are provided with screening and counseling to help them get back on their feet over the long run.