As the region endures potentially life-threatening cold temperatures for those spending long periods of time outdoors, local organizations are ramping up their efforts to make sure Philadelphia’s homeless community stays safe and warm through what meteorologists are calling the coldest temperatures the city has seen in nearly two decades.
Local homelessness and poverty advocacy organization Project HOME operates a 24/7 Homeless Outreach Hotline. Project HOME spokesman Laura Weinbaum says people can call the hotline if they see anyone out on the streets that may need shelter.
"If people see people who are outside or even if people see people going into abandoned buildings, we encourage them to contact this hotline number (215-232-1984) and an outreach worker will come and attempt to engage that person and offer them a place indoors, or water, or socks, or things like that to help them,” Weinbaum said.
With the expectation of extreme temperatures, several municipalities will issue "Code Blue" emergency warnings.
Such warnings are issued by local governments when temperatures drop below 20-degrees. Tonight, the temperature is expected to drop as low as 7-degrees and may only reach a few degrees higher by morning.
According to Weinbaum, the issuance of a Code Blue emergency warning triggers additional assistance for programs like Project HOME, including access to vacant beds in emergency housing centers funded by the City and full-day stays at city-funded shelters.
"It is a code blue which enables us to take special action. The city opens additional spaces in a couple of recreation centers and other places, and we’ll obviously be using any available beds that we have both within Project Home and also through other providers in the city," Weinbaum said.
“A Code Blue also creates the ability for police to help relocate and transport people who are still out there on the streets because it’s actually very dangerous to be out there when the temperatures are so low.”
The Bethesda Project is another program that will be able to provide special services to homeless persons during extreme cold temperatures in the winter months.
In conjunction with community organization Broad Street Ministry, the Bethesda Project operates a winter café that allows overnight stays for up to 75 men, women and children that are in need of shelter.
Director of Entry Level Programs Misty Sparks says Bethesda will also be taking advantage of additional service allowances made available by the city during a Code Blue.
"Due to the Code Blue, our capacity at the café increases, some shelter procedures change, the hours of operation are increased, and there are very limited reasons for which we would ask folks to leave the shelter,” Sparks said.
According to Sparks, the café, which operates nightly from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. from mid-December to early April, often reaches capacity following major snow storms. When Bethesda’s café reaches capacity, its coordinators contact other outreach services to assist anyone who is still in need of shelter.
The Bethesda Project, which serves more than 2,500 homeless and formerly homeless men and women each year at 14 sites throughout Philadelphia, has been operating its winter café since 2006.
The Project HOME Homeless Outreach Hotline can be reached 24/7 at 215-232-1984.
Here is a list of other organizations that help serve and house the needy during the extreme cold:
New Castle County
Friendship House has enacted Code Purple for Jan. 6, Tuesday, Jan. 7, and Wednesday, Jan. 8. Volunteers provide soup and sandwiches. Friendship House provides hot beverages, paper and cleaning products. The shelter will be open each day from 2:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m. at the Episcopal Church of Saints Andrew and Matthew, 720 N. Orange St.
For more information about Code Purple nights, call Bill Perkins at (302) 559-5716.
Salvation Army activates Code Purple when necessary. After 8:30 p.m., those at the sanctuary will go to the Salvation Army shelter, 400 N. Orange St. Men will be provided a cot set-up in the gymnasium and women will be provided accommodation in the women’s shelter. An evening snack and continental breakfast will be served before visitors leave the facility.
Those in the Newark area who are in need of sanctuary from the cold weather are encouraged to call (302) 544-0165, and sign up for services with the Newark Empowerment Center. The center’s office hours are 1 p.m.-4 p.m. The host overnight sanctuary locations for the Newark Empowerment Center are:
(Jan. 6): First Presbyterian Church, 292 W. Main St., Newark. Doors open at 6 p.m.
Tuesday (Jan. 7): St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, 701 S. College Ave., Newark. Doors open at 6 p.m.
Wednesday (Jan. 8): Newark United Methodist Church, 69 E. Main St., Newark. Doors open at 6 p.m.
Jan. 6 through Sunday, Jan. 12: People in need of overnight sanctuary are encouraged to go to Epworth United Methodist Church, 19285 Holland Glade Road, Rehoboth Beach. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. For more information, call Nan Ruhl, director of Immanuel Shelter, at (302) 604-2619.
According to Immanuel Shelter, the overnight sanctuary at Epworth United Methodist Church in Rehoboth Beach would take in people who are homeless in Kent County or elsewhere who can get to the shelter.