Bill Would Protect Vulnerable New Jerseyans At or Below Freezing Temperatures

Legislation Updating Requirements for Notifying Public of Freezing Weather Passes Full Legislature; Heads to Governor

Insider NJ has reported that “Legislation Revising Requirements for Notifying Public of Freezing Weather Passes Full Legislature; Heads to Governor.”

On January 13, legislation, A-6056, requiring counties to alert the public of temperature falling below freezing passed the full Assembly by a vote of 68-2-5. The bill requires public notification whenever the National Weather Service predicts temperatures of 32 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. Companion legislation, S-3422, previously passed the State Senate.  Deputy Majority Leader Eric Houghtaling (D-Monmouth) and Assemblywomen Joann Downey and Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) sponsored the bill in the Assembly.  Congratulations to the advocates who pushed for the passage of this legislation!

Individuals experiencing homelessness, especially those living outside, under bridges, in homeless encampments and in transit centers, across New Jersey have already faced cold temperatures and precipitation this year. As an example, last week, there were Code Blue alerts underway in 14 of New Jersey’s 21 counties. This legislation would protect vulnerable New Jersey residents from the cold and the elements during the winter months.

The bill would require each county in New Jersey to issue Code Blue Alerts within 24 to 48 hours of the predicted freezing temperatures. This notification would not depend on whether or not the National Weather Service also predicts precipitation. Each county’s Office of Emergency Management will be responsible for distributing notification of the predicted weather to local municipalities, social service agencies and non-profit organizations offering services, including services to those indivdiuals experiencing homelessness.

New Jersey’s current Code Blue law went into effect in 2017 and since that time, 9,000 people experiencing homelessness have used Code Blue warming centers to get in out of the cold. The current legislation only mandates an alert when the 32-degree temperatures is predicted to be accompanied by precipitation. Without predicted precipitation, the public is only alerted about a Code Blue for temperatures predicted to be 25 degrees or less.

“Even if snow or sleet do not accompany cold weather, 32 degrees is still a potentially lethal temperature for people with certain medical conditions or without a home to protect them,” said Houghtaling (D-Monmouth). 

The Code Blue Alert allows local authorities to transport individuals experiencing homelessness to local warming centers across the state. The emergency warming centers are also available to members of the public whose heat may not be working, during the cold weather.

New Jersey’s Code Blue legislation requires any municipality with over ten homeless individuals to provide emergency warming centers to all individuals experiencing homelessness during frigid weather and severe winter weather events. The warming centers are open during the overnight hours and provide cots, food and hot coffee, bathrooms and warm clothing.

“Freezing temperatures mean something very different to a homeless person than to someone with a warm house to sleep in,” said Downey (D-Monmouth). “With over 8,800 homeless individuals throughout our state, nearly 1,500 of whom are unsheltered, it’s important we remember their circumstances and do what we can to offer our support during the cold winter months.”

On January 22, 2019, NJCounts found 8,864 persons experiencing homelessness on a single night in the State of New Jersey. 1,482 persons were found unsheltered on the night of the count.

NJCounts is New Jersey’s annual Point-In-Time (PIT) Count of the Homeless which provides a statewide snapshot of households experiencing homelessness in our communities; where they find shelter, what their needs are, and what factors contribute to making them homeless. NJCounts 2020 is scheduled to take place on Wednesday, January 29, 2020.

Over the past two years, communities in New Jersey have worked to refine their Code Blue response system and provide warming center services to individuals experiencing homelessness who are living unsheltered.

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.

“By communicating important information to our residents, we can help keep them safe from inclement weather they may not have known about otherwise,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). 

The bill now goes to Governor Phil Murphy.