Montgomery County officials prepare to protect homeless during Code Blue weather

Montgomery County Commissioners Bruce L. Castor Jr., Josh Shapiro and Val Arkoosh discuss Code Blue procedures for winter weather.

NORRISTOWN >> As Montgomery County residents were bundling up, perhaps for the first time this season, to head into a brisk Monday, county officials were preparing to take steps protecting the vulnerable during extreme cold weather.

County commissioners and representatives from county and social service agencies gathered Monday to discuss procedures for declaring a Code Blue, and the measures that will be taken during such declarations. The goal of a Code Blue is for the county to work with local organizations to provide temporary shelter, food and clothing during the most severe winter weather.

Participating organizations include local shelters, North Penn Community Health Foundation and Your Way Home, North Penn United Way, Visiting Nurses, Alzheimer’s Association, Montgomery County Department of Public Safety and the county office of Aging and Adult Services.

“One of the things that is perhaps the most important aspect of declaring this Code Blue is that it requires, by necessity it requires, partnerships in order to make it work. And we’re really proud of that fact that the partnerships we have here in Montgomery County enable our Code Blue situation to work, I think, better than others,” said Commissioner Josh Shapiro.

The commissioners make the decision to declare a Code Blue based on recommendations from the Montgomery County Department of Public Safety. Tim Elbertson, community outreach coordinator for the department, said that the designation is usually made when the temperature or wind chill hits 20 degrees or below. The department considers other factors as well, such as snow, ice and sleet.

“We had a meeting a couple of years ago with some of our Code Blue partners who said just because it’s 26 degrees doesn’t mean that it’s not hazardous to people who are homeless, so we try to take that into consideration as well,” Elbertson said.

During such inclement days, residents are encouraged to check on friends, family and neighbors that may be vulnerable.

“Make sure that their homes are adequately heated. If you see someone who is in need of immediate assistance you should of course call 911, but we can also share numbers that you can call if someone simply needs shelter, if someone is on the street or is in a home with inadequate heating,” Commissioner Val Arkoosh said.

It is recommended that those who are homeless, at risk of becoming homeless, or you know someone in that situation in Montgomery County, you should call the toll-free number 1-877-646-6306 to reach the Your Way Home Call Center. The center is a centralized system for screening and intake for Montgomery County residents in need of housing. More information is available at yourwayhome.org.

The county, and many agencies within, are working in partnership to provide shelter during these dangerously cold days to those who have none. Coordinated outreach to the homeless will take place day and night to get people off of the street, said Genny O’Donnell, director of the coordinated homeless outreach center.

The county has about 60 emergency beds throughout local shelters and other agencies.

“We have a number of sites around the county that step up and open their doors when there is a Code Blue,” Arkoosh said.

A new development this year has allowed even more beds to be available during the early stages of winter. The Norristown Salvation Army building had previously been unable to open its doors during a Code Blue until after Christmas because of toy drive events and storage. This year, the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit has volunteered to host the toy drive, allowing the Salvation Army the space it needs to shelter those in need.

More information on the Montgomery County Code Blue procedures and partners is available at montcopa.org/codeblue.

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