TOMS RIVER – Now that the Code Blue is over for the winter, where are homeless going to go at night?
The Code Blue law opens up shelters when the temperature drops to freezing at night. Toms River changed the local ordinance so that their new location – at Riverwood Park – opens at 35 degrees. There’s a movement to make this the new norm statewide.
But now that spring has sprung, Code Blue does not get activated. This doesn’t mean that people suddenly have a place to sleep.
There were 170 different people who came to the shelter over 66 nights in the 2018-19 winter season, said Paul Hulse of Haven Beat the Street. Of these, 23 people were referred into rehab or detox programs and 19 received permanent housing. Some of those going to drug and alcohol programs might get housing after that. And that was just at the Toms River location. It doesn’t count the two in Lakewood at the Lakewood Community Center and the Greater Bethel Church of God.
The shelters provide a central location for care providers to assess the needs of homeless coming in. It’s easier than going off into the woods to find them. There were 140 volunteers helping. Businesses and churches provided food, and even neighbors in the area stopped in, Hulse said. There were four volunteers overnight and bag checks being performed so that people coming in knew that they were coming to a safe place.
Homeless advocates are hoping to build off of that success and find a more permanent solution. This is not the first time that people have asked for a facility to help the homeless. It’s been a perennial problem.
“Homelessness didn’t end March 31,” he said.
There’s a stigma about the homeless that they are in the situation they are in because of alcohol or drugs, Hulse said. But there’s a multitude of reasons people become homeless.
“We had senior citizens living in their cars,” he said, only because they weren’t able to afford a place to live. “These people are average, everyday folk; they just don’t have a home.”
The current Riverwood building is 5,500 square feet and two floors. Hulse said that this was a good size, but it would be great if a new space would also have a kitchen and showers.
As for location, there has been much discussion but nothing being decided, he said. They want to be a good neighbor, and not impact area businesses.
At a recent Toms River Township Council meeting, Councilman Terrance Turnbach called on county and state officials to help the town in providing a permanent facility.
“We can build off this progress, but it can’t just be Toms River. We need help,” he said. “It’s still cold out. Tomorrow night it will be 37 degrees.”
Hulse thanked all of the volunteers, community organizations, and politicians who supported them thus far.
For more information, to volunteer, or to help, call 386-315-0168 or visit HavenStreets.Org.