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

A Toms River councilman has expressed concern over the possibility that Toms River could shoulder the responsibility of taking in essentially all of Ocean County’s homeless residents this winter during “Code Blue” days now that a warming center in Lakewood may be closing.

Councilman Terrance Turnbach has been strongly advocating for better homeless services in Ocean County since being elected to the council, and spearheaded changes to Toms River’s “Code Blue” ordinance that expands the temperature range for the operation of warming centers. Turnbach said, in an e-mail to Shorebeat and public at a council meeting this week, that he has learned the Lakewood Community Center has been sold, and that the Code Blue program is not presently operating in Lakewood

Code Blue is a program designed to provide temporary shelter to individuals who are facing housing insecurity when temperatures reach 32 degrees or below. The policy authorizes municipalities to open up overnight warming centers to provide protection from the elements so that individuals do not suffer serious health concerns, or even death, from the freezing temperatures. Toms River was one of just two municipalities in Ocean County to run a Code Blue program, and now the township may find itself caring for residents of neighboring communities. Amplifying the issue locally, Ocean County remains the only county statewide without a year-round transitional housing center.

“I am respectfully calling on the 32 other municipalities in Ocean County to step up and do their part in providing for the homeless residents of their municipality in accordance with the Code Blue laws,” Turnbach wrote in an open letter. “Our county is not going to act on this, but Ocean County’s failure to lead does not mean that our local municipalities should follow suit. As winter is approaching, the temperatures will soon be dropping. Local residents who are suffering from housing insecurity in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic should not be left out in the cold.”

Turnbach continued: “To be clear, housing insecurity is not a partisan issue,” he said. “In fact, last year it was Ocean County Senator Robert Singer who spearheaded the compassionate and humane legislation to change the Code Blue temperatures from 25 degrees to 32 degrees. Ocean County Assemblyman Greg McGuckin co-sponsored the identical bill in the Assembly, and based upon both leaders’ efforts, the legislation became law. This is something our County should be proud of, not something we should ignore.”