Van Drew Bill to Protect Homeless With ‘Code Blue Alert’ Plans Heads to Governor

Senator Jeff Van Drew (D-Cape May and Cumberland) speaks at a news conference to Urge Horizon and Children’s Hospital to Come to Agreement.

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 received final approval today in the Assembly. It now goes to the governor’s desk.

“We have a responsibility in government to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public. Particularly in extreme weather conditions, we have to make sure that we identify residents in need of shelter and ensure they have access to warming centers where they will be safe,” said Senator Van Drew (D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic). “This will require a coordinated plan in each county for issuing an alert when temperatures reach certain levels and for providing shelter for homeless residents. It will better ensure that our most vulnerable are protected.”

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; the Assembly approved it 65-6-3. If signed, the law would take effect immediately.

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