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New Code Blue 32 in effect to assist homeless in winter

It sounds like something a quarterback might shout in his pre-snap call.

But on the streets of Buffalo in the harsh cold, "Code Blue 32" has nothing to do with football. It's an expansion of Code Blue, the emergency effort to get homeless people safely indoors during the freezing winter months.

Under Code Blue, which has been in place since 2009, the City of Buffalo activates an emergency weather safety plan that opens up three shelters to any homeless person on the street who needs a place to stay and keep warm when the temperature or wind chill dips below 16 degrees. Code Blue also provides for a van to go out and find homeless people and bring them to a shelter for a warm meal.

The same system will be activated under Code Blue 32, when the temperature or windchill is between 16 and 32 degrees.

“It was definitely a need. It will double the amount of Code Blue days. It will be essentially the entire winter covered, as opposed to just a few days,” said Nadia S. Pizzari of the Western New York Coalition for the Homeless.

Code Blue 32 was called for the first time early Tuesday morning, when the wind chill factor reached 30 degrees. The expanded initiative is in response to an executive order from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo aimed at ensuring that homeless persons avoid hypothermia, serious injury and death by requiring shelters to extend their hours of operation.

Code Blue took in more than 600 homeless individuals in 2015-16 at the Matt Urban Hope Center, 385 Paderewski Drive; St. Luke’s Mission of Mercy, 325 Walden Ave.; and Harbor House, 241 Genesee St. The initiative has a budget of about $90,000, mostly funded by the City of Buffalo and National Fuel.

It’s not clear yet how much more Code Blue 32 will cost, but the state is expected to pick up the additional tab.

The shelters at Matt Urban Hope Center and Harbor House will be open under Code Blue 32 on nights when temperatures or windchill are between 16 and 32 degrees. St. Luke’s Mission of Mercy will continue to be open only under Code Blue.

The expanded safety plan also opens up a warming center at Harbor House during the daytime, so that street homeless people won’t have to wander from spot to spot in the city to keep warm. Service providers also will be able to work with clients inside the center.

“It’s an opportunity to get people permanently housed,” Pizzari said.

Pizzari said 26 people stayed at the Matt Urban Hope Center and 20 people stayed at Harbor House Tuesday morning as a result of the expanded initiative. Code Blue 32 likely will be in effect most of the week, with predicted low temperatures in the low 30s and upper 20s.

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