Code Blue Sonoma brings support and awareness to the problems of homelessness during winter weather. Our annual fundraising event is the Code Blue Bike Ride held each October.
Sonoma County officials and local homeless services providers have operated the Code Blue Winter Weather Project since 2013, when a run of frigid nights left homeless advocates scrambling to keep homeless people warm and safe. The plan is similar to other emergency efforts in that it provides extra resources that would not otherwise be available.
2016-17 Code Blue Winter Program
This winter, Catholic Charities offered expanded services during 37 cold and wet winter nights, allowing for approximately 535 individuals to use a warming station and/or access other expanded services.
These expanded winter month services allow people experiencing homelessness to be able to get some rest on a warm cot, eat a hot meal, and provide items/supplies to help ease the misery of being outside during torrential downpours and/or freezing temperatures. Catholic Charities Outreach Workers are also on site to help engage, motivate, and assess individuals for other services. The Code Blue Bicycle Event supports these activities by providing Catholic Charities with a flexible funding source to help engage those living on the street with the ultimate goal of getting them off the streets and into safe and secure housing.
What is a Code Blue advisory?
A “Code Blue” advisory is implemented through Sonoma County and local homeless services providers when the weather creates a life-threatening hazard for the homeless, defined by:
- Temperature below 38 degrees OR
- Rainy days when it is difficult or impossible for unsheltered individuals to stay dry and safe.
Code Blue employs increased outreach efforts to protect individuals who are living unsheltered in Sonoma County. Code Blue allows for extra resources to be distributed including warming stations, temporary and increased capacity shelters, and a 24-hour cold weather hotline open for report on individuals at risk (707-800-2927).
Cold weather means high risk
When the weather turns dangerously cold, homeless people are at high risk of injury or even death. According to the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, cold weather poses a threat to those experiencing homelessness even when temperatures seem mild. Hypothermia can set in when temperatures drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, but many shelters don’t open until it’s much colder.
Supervisor Shirlee Zane stated, ” We have given a really loud message that we’re prioritizing getting our most vulnerable people, who are really at risk of dying, into housing. Housing for homeless people is not necessarily a high priority for developers, especially in this dysfunctional housing market, so as policymakers we wanted to use the tools at our disposal to create some incentives for this type of housing. We’ve already studied this; now it’s time to start implementing it” (Press Democrat Oct. 11, 2015).
Mike Johnson, CEO of the Committee on the Shelterless that runs the COTS shelter in Petaluma stated, “We know of 16 people who have died on the streets in Sonoma County. There are more deaths because there are more people out there. When there is a long waiting list for a bed, people lose hope and the mortality rate goes up” (Dec. 2013).