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Toms River to Declare ‘Code Blue’ to Shelter Homeless at 35 Degrees, Raising Minimum Temp

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A warming center for the homeless in Toms River. (Credit: WOBM-FM)
A warming center for the homeless in Toms River. (Credit: WOBM-FM)

The homeless population of Toms River Township will be able to find shelter from the cold even when the temperature remains a few degrees above freezing under a new ordinance approved last week.

The council unanimously adopted the ordinance, which will activate sheltering efforts for homeless people any time the overnight low is expected to dip below 35 degrees. Previously, the township ordinance stated that a “Code Blue” activation could occur only when the temperature reached 32 degrees with precipitation or 25 degrees without precipitation. The new structure of the ordinance provides shelter at 35 degrees or blow, regardless of the presence of precipitation.

Connie Pascale, a longtime advocate for homeless services in Ocean County, praised the council for its decision.

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“You’re setting an example of what good government – government that cares for all its citizens – is all about,” Pascale said. “I want to commend all of you for the wonderful effort you’ve made here.”

Under New Jersey administrative law, ordinances must be published and take 20 days to go in effect. The council, recognizing that that time period will take up a significant chunk of the coldest time of the year, passed a separate resolution allowing the mayor to declare a “Code Blue” under the new temperature limit immediately.

Councilwoman Laurie Huryk, who helped champion the ordinance, explained to Shorebeat how Code Blue works. Warming centers are opened after a Code Blue is called by the county (though Toms River will now issue its own Code Blue declarations under the new ordinance). The participants can generally enter the warming center at approximately 5 p.m. and leave by 8:30 a.m.  In addition to a cot, they are provided a warm meal in the evening, breakfast in the morning, and whatever basic supplies they may need such as clean socks, sneakers, and a jacket.

Haven/Beat the Street, a private, non-profit runs Toms River’s Code Blue program. The warming center is located at the Riverwood recreation building off of Whitesville Road, which Haven leases from the township.

“This move has greatly increased the Toms River Code Blue program’s capacity as well as accessibility,” Huryk said. “Most of the help is volunteer, including cooking and serving meals, conducting intake interviews, cleaning, organizing the donations, etc.”

The volunteers are joined by representatives from other groups and agencies that help the homeless population.

Toms River council members received a thoughtful thank-you from someone who may benefit most from the ordinance.

“I’ve been homeless on and off for the last five years,” said Joshua Young, who came to the meeting. “Before this, the new law to be moved up to above freezing, I’ve been outside in a tent and I’ve been freezing my butt off out there. I don’t make enough money to support myself. I try. But I do appreciate the move to raise the temperature because people do die.”

Most recently, he said, a homeless person was found dead behind a shopping center in a neighboring town.

“You have made the difference and brought this issue to our attention,” said Councilman Terrance Turnbach.