Van Drew Bill to Protect Homeless With ‘Code Blue Alert’ Plans Clears Senate

Senator Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Atlantic and Cumberland, hears testimony during the Senate Environment Committee.

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Jeff Van Drew requiring county governments to issue Code Blue Alerts and to ensure a plan is in place to shelter at-risk individuals during a severe weather event was approved today by the Senate.

“It is our responsibility to make sure that our most vulnerable residents are protected. Particularly during extreme weather events, it is critical that we identify those who are in need of shelter and to ensure they have access to the resources they need to be safe,” said Senator Van Drew (D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic). “This will make sure a plan is in place in each county for issuing an alert when extraordinary circumstances exist and providing shelter for homeless residents in need.”

The bill (Senate Committee Substitute for S-1088) would require a county office of emergency management, or another appropriate county agency, to coordinate with municipal emergency management coordinators in municipalities with a documented homeless population of at least 10, as noted in the most recent Annual Point In Time Count, in developing consistent Code Blue alert plans. The plans would provide for emergency warming centers during implementation of a Code Blue alert plan, which may be carried out by designated volunteer organizations.

The bill would require a county emergency management coordinator to declare a Code Blue alert after evaluating weather forecasts and advisories produced by the National Weather Service that predict the following weather conditions in the county within 24 to 48 hours: (1) temperatures will reach 25 degrees Fahrenheit or lower without precipitation, or 32 degrees Fahrenheit or lower with precipitation; or (2) the National Weather Service wind-chill temperature will be zero degrees Fahrenheit or less for a period of two hours or more.

In January 2016, an estimated 8,941 people were homeless on a given night, according to the most recent annual Point In Time (PIT) count conducted in New Jersey and reported to federal officials. Most were staying in residential programs for homeless people, and 1,442 were found in unsheltered locations. On a single night in January 2016, 559 veterans were homeless.

The Senate approved the bill by a vote of 32-3; it next heads to the Assembly for consideration.