June 18, 2019 | 72° F

Homeless shelters when temperature drops

Photo by Shirley Yu |

For those living under a roof, the dropping temperatures is only a small burden, but for the homeless community, it can be life threatening.

The incoming cold weather has prompted homeless shelters in New Brunswick to prepare for people in need.

When temperature drops below freezing, a network of different organizations in New Jersey offer those in need shelter, food and clothing.

The Ozanam Men’s Shelter in New Brunswick offers homeless men temporary housing, food, mental health assessments and counseling, case management, referrals and assistance with employment and housing.

When the shelter's capacity is reached, they employ a waiting list to which people must call daily for updates on availability, according to their website.

This is potentially problematic when the weather drops and more people are in need of shelter, said Cynthia Bagner, resident attendant supervisor at the Ozanam Men's Shelter.

One of the ways they deal with the cold temperature is to initiate "Code Blue," Bagner said.

The government initiates "Code Blue" when the temperature drops below 20 degrees, Bagner said. It enables shelters to offer additional beds to homeless people. Warming centers also open, which offer residents a place to stay to warm up.

"Code Blue" alerts are communicated through local and social media, but information can change quickly so it is important to call ahead.

“There is also a rotating shelter,” Bagner said. “We group up with a bunch of different organizations and the gentlemen go to a different one every Sunday.”

If the weather is severe or threatening the men do not have to leave during the day, as they typically would have to if it was not, Bagner said.

But despite efforts to prepare for the cold weather ahead, Bagner said she does not see a significant increase of residents. It is about the same amount of people staying at Ozanam Men’s Shelter regardless of the weather, she said.

On the other hand, Elijah’s Promise in New Brunswick, a community soup kitchen, experiences a large increase of people as temperatures start to drop.

Although they are not a shelter, they still open up their kitchen overnight to be a warming center and allow people to stay the night when the weather gets too cold or if it is going to be a frigid night, said Jim Zullo, executive director of Elijah’s Promise.

They also initiate "Code Blue" when the weather reaches 20 degrees or below, he said.

“The winter tends to be a time we see significant demand,” Zullo said. “Last year as a result of the very frigid winter we had, we were open 31 nights with an average of 35 people per night.”

Through the months of September, October and November, they consistently see an increase of people, Zullo said. During the past three months, and the same period last year, there has been an increase of about 3,000 meals.

“In addition to opening up overnight, we also distribute warm weather clothing, socks and hygiene kits," Zullo said. "We get it mostly through donations and we distribute it to people who need it."

Students also notice an increase of homeless people in New Brunswick when the weather drops.

Nava Friedman, a School of Nursing sophomore, makes a daily commute to different hospitals in Downtown New Brunswick for class.

She has noticed more people who appear in distress or possibly homeless around the Rutgers sub-campuses and Downtown New Brunswick on her commute.

“I notice recently that a lot of people who look in need get on the New Brunswick shuttle and the double EE bus just to get downtown or stay on for the warmth,” she said.

Noa Halff

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