NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—The Henry Guest House has been opened eighteen times as a Code Blue warming site from December through January this winter, according to the Public Information Officer for the City of New Brunswick, Jennifer Bradshaw.
The Guest House has hosted about 150 guests over the course of this winter, according to Bradshaw.
“During the December 26, 2017-January 17, 2018 window, we averaged 35-40 guests for the first few nights, which grew to an average of 50-55 people,” she told New Brunswick Today.
Bradshaw says, “The Henry Guest House is the priority site for Code Blue, due to its location, restrooms accommodations and open space to house guests. We have additional designated buildings for Code Blue, but we utilize the Guest House primarily at this time.”
According to the new state law signed in May 2017 by Governor Chris Christie, New Jersey counties must declare a "code blue" if weather forecasts and advisories produced by the National Weather Service predict the following weather conditions in the county within 24 to 48 hours:
a. temperatures will reach 25 degrees Fahrenheit or lower without precipitation or 32 degrees Fahrenheit or lower with precipitation; or
b. the National Weather Service windchill temperature will be zero degrees Fahrenheit or less for a period of two hours or more.
However, New Brunswick typically only opens the warming center when the temperature drops below 20 degrees or if there is at least six inches of snow on the ground in order to preserve resources and ensure that the Code Blue programs continues.
Bradshaw states, “We do this so that we can best manage our resources for Code Blue, not least of which includes the time and effort put forth by our network of volunteers, of which we are very appreciative.”
However, this low temperature threshold has raised concerns for some New Brunswick residents.
Eric Nuber expressed concern at a City Council meeting in January 2017, arguing that “the hard and fast temperature cut off of 20 degrees does little to aid on many frigid nights and instances of inclement weather.”
“The City of New Brunswick is presently the main entity that handles logistics and implementation of our municipal Code Blue operations, we do not receive supplemental funding, public or private, to do so. Therefore, we must plan to the best of our ability utilizing the resources that we have available, ” says Bradshaw.
The program was originally in the hands of Elijah’s Promise, the area's most popular soup kitchen, until its duties were relieved by the City of New Brunswick last winter.
According to Michelle Wilson, Executive Director of Elijah’s Promise, this was because, “We just had too many people in our kitchen. A soup kitchen is not an appropriate place to have people try to take shelter overnight.”
The City of New Brunswick now manages the program, while Elijah’s Promise provides “coordinated coverage.”
Wilson explains, “We help transport our guests over to the shelter. In addition we provide a staff person to assist the shelter at night, so we have one person on from our staff who works with them.”
Overall, Bradshaw claims, “We've been successful with the program thus far this winter and continue to work with County officials to help expand Code Blue to more sites throughout Middlesex County so that further accommodations are available to central New Jersey residents without adequate shelter from the cold.”
Wilson also said that the City of New Brunswick should be commended for its efforts: “I know the guests who eat with us are so grateful that this program is in place and I would say that the city really has stepped up in a major way.”
Adding to the challenges is the fact that New Brunswick and Perth Amboy are the only two communities in Middlesex County that are part of the program.
On January 22, the Mayors of both cities joined Freeholder Director Ronald Rios at an informational meeting to encourage other municipalities to launch their own warming centers, to help ease the burden.
The program's supporters agree that what is needed most right now is volunteers.
Anyone 18 years of age or older who is interested in volunteering for the Code Blue Program can sign up at the city's website .
For more information about the program, anyone can email Community Organization Specialist Keith Jones II at [email protected]