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COURT HOUSE – Middle Township Committee heard a report Dec. 3 from Emergency Medical Service Chief Sean McDevitt on the municipality's efforts to establish a warming center for homeless individuals during Code Blue alerts. 

State law requires each county, through its Office of Emergency Management, to issue a Code Blue alert “to municipalities, social service agencies, and non-profit organizations that provide services for at-risk individuals” when temperatures dip to 32 degrees or lower. 

The alert allows authorities to take homeless individuals to local warming centers. 

In the past, the county has used its state-funded voucher program to place individuals at local hotels and motels. Homeless advocates have raised concerns with the voucher program and have pushed the freeholders to establish a formal homeless shelter in the county.

With winter nine days away, a much more immediate issue is how to house the homeless during periods covered by Code Blue alerts.

McDevitt told the committee that a formal agreement was nearing completion with the Cape Community Church on Route 9 and Oyster Road in Court House. 

The church facilities would serve as Middle Township’s designated warming center and will be able to accommodate from 12 to 14 individuals.

Similar warming centers are being established in Wildwood and Lower Township. Middle Township will receive $25,000 in county funds to support its warming center effort.

Individuals may be transported from one to another of the three municipal warming centers if demand and space availability requires.

There will be a total of 36 spaces available across the three centers, McDevitt said.

McDevitt noted that the center would not be able to accommodate children.  He added that families with children would continue to rely on the county’s voucher system during Code Blue events.

The warming centers are staffed on a volunteer basis with each center required to have a male and female volunteer on duty at all times.

Men and women in the center are accommodated in separate rooms.

Staffing the centers can be difficult because volunteers must undertake cardiopulmonary resuscitation training.

Cape Hope has committed to supplying food for the centers, McDevitt said.

According to the minutes of the April 24 meeting of the freeholders, Director Gerald Thornton said that in 2018, in just the four months before the meeting, the homeless hotline reported “137 people placed for Wildwood, 132 people placed for Middle Township and 114 people placed for Lower Township.”

He also noted that in 2018, Wildwood had 56 placements for Code Blue, Middle had 54 placements, Lower had 55 placements.

At that same meeting, Thornton emphasized his view that the county’s responsible to declare the Code Blue alert, “Sending out notifications to the municipalities to respond.” Those seeking shelter will still use the homeless hotline as the initial point of contact.

Mayor Michael Clark emphasized that the goal was to have the warming center operating before the first of the New Year.

The committee expects that it will see an agreement with Cape Community Church for adoption at its last meeting of 2018.

While the preparation of a warming center proceeds, township officials have also drafted a letter to the Governor’s Office asking for state intervention to return the county to a more active role using the existing voucher system until better alternatives can be established. 

Clark said at the meeting that he had already signed the letter and it was ready to be sent as soon as the other committee members signed.

To contact Vince Conti, email vconti@cmcherald.com.

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