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Winter Homelessness in Baltimore: The Issue with Code Blue

Baltimore can only declare a Code Blue Alert when temperatures fall to 13 degrees wind chill or lower. What is wrong with this picture? (Image: National Coalition for the Homeless)

Do you see what’s wrong with this picture? Baltimore can only declare a Code Blue Alert when temperatures fall to 13 degrees wind chill or lower, much lower than surrounding areas. (Image: National Coalition for the Homeless)

Maryland winters can be highly unpredictable. From snow dustings to blizzards to uncharacteristically warm days in between, it can be difficult for a homeless person to know when they need to seek emergency shelter. Winter homelessness in Baltimore is incredibly dangerous, as many residents realized last month following the death of a local homeless man. Keep reading to learn more information about this unfortunate tragedy and to find out what the issue is with “Code Blue” in Baltimore.

Homeless Man Found Dead Outside of City Hall in Baltimore

On any given night in Baltimore, there as many as 3,000+ people without homes. In early December, Baltimore temperatures dropped to about 29 degrees overnight. A homeless man named Lawrence Alexander, who was known to sleep on the ground in front of City Hall next to the Fayette Street bus bench, was found dead in this location come morning. This came as a wake up call to many city officials, one that revealed tragic flaws in the emergency housing and Code Blue guidelines. Now, people are turning to Baltimore’s new mayor, Catherine Pugh, to find a long-term solution to this local crisis.

What is a Code Blue Alert in Baltimore?

A Code Blue Alert in Baltimore is declared by the Health Commissioner during periods of extreme cold weather. The issue with Code Blue lies in what temperature is considered “extreme.” For Lawrence Alexander, 29 degrees was extreme enough to take his life. However, Health Commissioner Leana Wen can only declare a Code Blue Alert when temperatures fall to 13 degrees wind chill or lower. At this time, according to a report, the Code Blue Alert, “calls on a panoply of agencies, including housing, health, emergency management, fire and police, to provide outreach, referrals, inspections and other services to “vulnerable populations” coping with the cold. (The full Code Blue Plan for 2016-17 can be accessed here.)”

Emergency Beds in Baltimore to Combat Winter Homelessness

Emergency beds in Baltimore can be hard to come by. Thankfully, $750,000 was allocated for emergency beds this winter under the Rawlings-Blake administration. However, these beds are only made available when temperatures fall below freezing. Thankfully, changes are being made under Mayor Pugh’s administration to further combat winter homelessness in Baltimore. According to the Mayor’s Office of Human Services:

  • The City, through the Mayor’s Office of Human Services, will begin seasonal sheltering one month earlier and at a higher temperature of 32F with wind chill as a part of the Winter Shelter Plan.  During the months of October 15th to March 15th, at temperatures of 32F or below, 100+ seasonal beds will be available to shelter vulnerable individuals and families. Additionally, for this winter season, the Health Department will declare “Code Blue” when temperatures with a wind chill reach 13F or below, between November 15th and March 15th.  During this declaration, an additional 100+ shelter beds will then be available, bringing the total seasonal capacity to over 200 beds.”  

Talk to My Brother’s Keeper About Helping the Homeless

At My Brother’s Keeper, we know the importance of helping our homeless brothers and sisters. That is why we work closely with Project PLASE to help serve the needs of the Baltimore homeless community. To learn more about how to help or to find out more about our services including addiction treatment referrals, prescription assistance, hot meal programs, employment assistance, health services and identifying possible emergency shelter, call MBK today at 410-644-3194.

You can also follow our official MBK page on Google+, Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook, to stay up to date on our center’s progress and upcoming events in the community.

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