OCEAN TOWNSHIP - A new bill expanding the times when cold weather shelters are opened to at-risk individuals, including families experiencing temporary homelessness, was approved by the Assembly Appropriations Committee this Thursday.
The bill (A-6056), which is sponsored by Assemblyman Eric Houghtaling (D-Neptune) and Assemblywoman Joann Downey (D-Freehold) would require the State of New Jersey to declare a Code Blue alert when the National Weather Service predicts temperatures will reach 32 degrees Fahrenheit or lower.
A Code Blue Alert is declared when temperatures drop below freezing and weather conditions pose a danger to the homeless population, allowing authorities to bring at-risk individuals to local shelters or other agencies, known as “warming centers.” Shelters make additional beds and space available until conditions improve and the alert is called off.
Current law only mandates an alert when the 32-degree temperatures will be accompanied by precipitation – otherwise, the public is only notified at 25 degrees or less.
Alerts are often communicated through social media and local media outlets to help spread information about the impending weather and the location of various warming centers throughout a county.
“As soon as temperatures go below freezing, any person without shelter - and especially children, the elderly, and any person who’s ill - faces a much greater risk for frostbite and illness,” said Assemblyman Houghtaling. “Right now, state law doesn’t allow counties and communities to open cold-weather shelters for these individuals when temperatures remain above 25 degrees Fahrenheit, even if wind chill and additional complications create a far more dangerous situation. With more shelters available, we can make sure that our most vulnerable families can stay safe and warm during cold weather.”
"It's incredibly important that we take care of our most vulnerable residents - especially when cold weather brings temperatures below freezing," said Assemblywoman Downey, who chairs the Human Services Committee in the State Assembly. "We're grateful to our community partners who have been working hard to expand access to these shelters, and we thank all those nonprofits and volunteers who help at-risk families keep safe during dangerous conditions."