The people who administer the winter homeless emergency program known as Code Blue are preparing for another season. But this year, there are significant changes including new venues where homeless will be taken.
When temperatures and wind chills drop below 15 degrees Fahrenheit, the City of Buffalo and the Western New York Coalition for the Homeless issue Code Blue. When the alert is enacted, coalition representatives head out into the streets to find homeless individuals and bring them to warm shelter.
The program was first introduced in 2009 but this winter season, there are significant changes. Most notably, three agencies will serve as emergency shelters: the Matt Urban Hope Center on Paderewski Drive, St. Luke's Mission of Mercy on Walden Avenue and Harbor House on Genesee Street.
"We've created a way to do Code Blue in real time," said Nadia Pizzaro, who chairs the Western New York Coalition for the Homeless. "Between the hours of 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. on a Code Blue night, if you see a homeless person on the street, let them know about Code Blue. Let them know they can call 211. If they're refusing to come in, call 211 and they can dispatch our outreach van to find that individual and either bring them to shelter, or offer them necessary things that they need to make it through the cold Buffalo nights."
The Code Blue Collaboration says more than 600 people were served last winter. The Code Blue season began on Tuesday, November 15 and will run through March 15, 2017. The program is funded by the City of Buffalo and National Fuel.
"With an increased number of participating shelters this year, we are turning to the public for support," said Mayor Byron Brown. "We are still in need of cots. And, if anyone has a van they'd like to donate to Code Blue, we could use a van as well."
The changes to Code Blue were announced outside the Matt Urban Hope Center. Just a few feet away from the speakers was a stone memorializing individuals who have perished over the years while trying to survive on the streets. Joyelle Tedeschi, director of the Hope Center, noted that their annual memorial ceremony was scheduled for December 21.
Her hope, though, is to keep homeless individuals from becoming the next people to be mourned.
"We are proud to say that since the Code Blue inception and many programs like Housing First, and because of the collaborative efforts of all of our community agencies represented behind me today, we have seen a drastic drop in the names that we list every year at our homeless memorial," Tedeschi said.
"But one name is always one name too many."