TOMS RIVER – A more compassionate state law in caring for homeless was lauded by local officials and volunteers.
The law changed regarding Code Blue, which governs when temporary shelters open in winter weather.
Previously, a Code Blue alert was to be declared when National Weather Service forecasts and advisories predict within 24 to 48 hours that: (1) the temperature will reach 25 degrees Fahrenheit or less without precipitation or 32 degrees Fahrenheit or less with precipitation; or (2) the wind chill temperature will be zero degrees Fahrenheit or less for a period of two hours or more.
The new law requires a Code Blue alert to be issued when: (1) temperatures are predicted to reach 32 degrees Fahrenheit or less, regardless of precipitation; or (2) the wind chill temperature will be zero degrees Fahrenheit or less for a period of two hours or more.
However, Toms River had operated on a separate rule. Township officials pointed out that freezing is freezing regardless of whether there was precipitation. They changed it so that as soon as the temperature dropped close to freezing, 35 degrees, then their shelter would open.
“We set the standard for Code Blue in Toms River,” Mayor Maurice Hill said.
Toms River’s change prompted legislators to make the change for the rest of the state.
The municipal shelter provides accommodations for overnight only at Riverwood Park Recreation Center off Whitesville Road. This shelter is overseen by Just Believe, a non-profit network of volunteers. A proclamation given to them recently said they had inspired the township to change the parameters of the shelter to 35 degrees.
The group serviced 174 at-risk people in 2018/2019, providing 1,730 nights of shelter. They partnered with a staff of volunteers, as well as scouts, police departments, and the Ocean County Sheriff’s Department.
Part of the mission is not just to catch people when they fall, but to keep them from falling in the future. In order to do this, they helped 13 people enter rehab or detox, 10 people find permanent housing, 10 people find full-time employment and nine people find assistance through the Ocean County Board of Social Services and other agencies.
The change in the law was widely supported. Locally, the Senate version of the bill was sponsored by Sen. Robert Singer (R-30th) and the Assembly version was co-sponsored by Assemblyman Greg McGuckin (R-10th). It was signed into law recently.
Councilman Terrance Turnbach had taken the lead on this in the council, and thanked McGuckin for allowing him to sit in on the Assembly vote.