Code Blue: How Philly takes care of the homeless in dangerous weather

Frigid Homeless Philly

The city of Philadelphia called for a “Code Blue” Monday morning and again this morning. It means the city will attempt to find shelter for all of Philadelphia’s 6,000 homeless. To find and convince many of the homeless to accept shelter, 35-plus outreach coordinators who work with the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Supportive Housing, Department of Behavioral Health and through the nonprofit Project HOME will work until 2 a.m. or later.

“This is something we do all year round, but do with special intensity at a time like this,” said Marcella Maguire, director of homeless services for the Philadelphia department of behavioral health.

They work mostly in Center City, where most of Philadelphia’s homeless population lives, as well as Kensington, but they’ll travel anywhere necessary. The outreach coordinators are helped by volunteers and police officers. According to Project HOME, the outreach coordinators make new contacts with 2,200 people annually. Maguire said the goal of outreach coordinators is to identify and build relationships with as many homeless as possible throughout the year so that when the weather does turn bad they can locate and help them.

Sometimes, the homeless refuse shelter no matter how cold it gets. Maguire said outreach coordinators usually check to see if these homeless are suffering from hypothermia or other illnesses that require special attention. If they need to, they can coordinate with police to transport them to a shelter via a court order. Other homeless never leave the streets, though.

“Some have multiple layers, cardboard and sleeping bags,” Maguire said, “and they do make it through the winter like this.”

So far, Maguire estimates the Office of Supportive Housing and the Department of Behavioral Health have called 25 Code Blues this season. There were about 75 last year. A Code Blue is called whenever the temperature drops below a “real feel” temperature of 20 degrees or below 32 degrees with precipitation.

Maguire’s advice for anyone who wants to help on cold days like these is to call 215-232-1984 if you see a homeless person in need of help.

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Homelessness