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Bruce Conway

By Bruce Conway

Providing Free Shelter during the Cold

Tue, January 15, 2013

Providing Free Shelter During the Cold

Crisis, hunger and homelessness can happen anytime, to virtually anyone. For United Way of Greater Philadelphia & Southern New Jersey, connecting people in need with local resources and assistance, along with access to resources that lead to long-term solutions, is a critical part of our mission. In Burlington County, we mobilize an additional safety net program this time of year to help our most vulnerable neighbors during the cold winter months.

The “Code Blue” program guarantees free shelter to homeless individuals in temporary shelters when temperatures dip below freezing. Code Blue was created after a 52-year old woman, who lived in an abandoned bread truck, died during sub-freezing weather in Lumberton in 2002. A plan and process were instated to help get people out of deadly cold weather and save lives.

Pat Lasusky, Director of Interfaith Hospitality Network of Burlington County, said of the program, “United Way was instrumental in developing and nurturing the Code Blue system that, in cold weather emergencies, opens shelters that serve hundreds of people during the winter season. I have no doubt that this program has saved lives.”

Originally utilizing motel rooms for emergency lodging, the program’s budget was quickly stretched to its limit. In 2006 a different approach was taken to incorporate faith-based groups into the program, which generously opened their doors to house those in need. This tactic also enables us to provide on-site services such as health screenings, flu shots and case management to help people get back on their feet again. In the past three years, nearly 4,000 nights of shelter have been provided through Code Blue.

Even with the new plan in place, the Code Blue budget is often stretched to its limit during several consecutive days extreme cold. To help ensure we meet this growing need, generous grants from foundations, such as the Social Services for the Homeless (SSH), support the Code Blue Program.

For more information, please contact the Burlington County Board of Chosen Freeholders Office of Public Information at 609-265-5028.