In May 2017, Governor Christie signed legislation mandating all NJ counties create a plan to protect unsheltered individuals when the temperature dips below a certain temperature. Whenever the temperature drops below 32 degrees with precipitation or 25 degrees without, there should be places available for individuals to come out from the freezing temperatures.
Bergen County’s natural response was to use the Housing, Health and Human Services Center (HHHSC) in Hackensack, where the Family Promise Walk-in Dinner program is held nightly, for this purpose. Unfortunately, what they didn’t consider what to do if that unsheltered “individual” was a family with children.
Typically, if a family shows up at the HHHSC with nowhere to go and without a plan, the Department of Child Protection and Permanency, or what we used to call DYFS, is called in. This is NOT the ideal response if you expect families to come for shelter in cold weather. Most families will not risk having their children removed from them – even if it means sleeping in the car. After this was pointed out at a meeting between the Department of Human Services and Family Promise, three apartments were designated for addressing the state mandate for homeless families. More importantly, instead of calling child protective services, families now will meet with a counselor who will connect them with resources within the county.
There are still some kinks to be ironed out in this plan. Regardless, if you see anyone, family or individual, out on the street in the bitter cold, or foggy windows in a parked car, please contact your local police department for assistance under Code Blue.