As temperatures continue to drop, organizations looking out for South Jersey’s homeless populations seek warming shelters to help shield vulnerable residents from the cold.
When temperatures drop below freezing, county officials will often send Code Blue alerts, which allow authorities and others to take homeless or medically fragile people to designated warming shelters with additional beds.
A network of agencies throughout New Jersey, including the M25 Initiative and the Cumberland County Code Blue Coalition, work together to help people get shelter, food and clothing. The initiative becomes increasingly important during the harshest months of winter when residents are at risk of dying outside.
Dr. Rob Weinstein, president and founder of the M25 Initiative and chairman of the Cumberland coalition, said there is always a need for more churches and organizations to serve as warming centers.
“Code Blue saves lives and embodies compassion in action,” he said in a statement. “Our grassroots program relies on churches and allows us to use their facilities as temporary warming centers during extremely cold weather.”
The Code Blue Season began Nov. 1 and extends through April 1.
Weinstein had put out an urgent call this month for places to serve as warming centers in Vineland, which had none. Since then, the city has secured at least one center.
Last winter, Cumberland’s Code Blue program provided warm shelter and food to an average of 55 homeless individuals in Bridgeton, Millville and Vineland.
During one of the coldest nights last winter, the warming centers provided shelter to 88 homeless individuals. Vineland has one of the largest homeless populations that utilize the warming centers among the three municipalities, coalition officials said.
Weinstein said the M25 Initiative, which is the fundraising arm of for the Cumberland County Code Blue Coalition and the Cumberland County Housing First Collaborative, has committed to raising money to provide compensation to churches and organizations that allow the Code Blue program to use their facilities.
This year, they will reimburse participating facilities $145 per night, or $12.08 per hour. The money is distributed monthly.
“The Code Blue Coalition is formed around the philosophy of putting compassion into action,” Weinstein said in a statement. “The Coalition is made up of ordinary individuals doing the extraordinary by giving of their time and resources to assist their neighbors who are homeless during the cold winter months. The volunteers make the miracle of Code Blue happen.”