Baltimore is bracing for some brisk weather this week, which has led City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen to issue her first “Code Blue” alert warning everyone to get inside and stay warm.
Commissioner Wen’s Code Blue alert takes effect overnight tonight and lasts through at least Friday morning. Forecasts show temperatures won’t be unbearably cold today and early tonight, staying in the upper 30s until around 10 p.m. However, by 7 a.m. on Thursday, the wind chill is projected to hit 15 degrees and drop as low as 9 degrees by 3 p.m. It’s projected to stay around that mark through Friday morning.
With that in mind, the city wants to protect its most at-risk residents by instructing them to get inside and stay where it’s warm. “This is the time to watch out for those most vulnerable among us, especially children, older adults, and those with chronic medical conditions,” Wen said in a statement. “Because the highest risk is during the early morning hours, be sure to check on your elderly neighbors to ensure that they have heat and power tonight.”
The Health Department advises residents to wear multiple layers of loose-fitting clothing, wear a head coverings when outside, drink fluids (not alcohol), be wary of ice and snow, check on vulnerable residents and shelter all animals.
Terry Hickey, director of special projects for the Mayor’s Office, said that Catherine Pugh’s administration’s goal tonight is “to make sure that everyone who needs to come in from the cold tonight has a place to go.”
Particularly cold conditions like the ones expected over the next couple days, or a major storm, can push people who normally don’t want to come into shelters during freezing weather to come inside, Hickey said.
This last weekend, Baltimore saw its first weather-related fatality of the year, when a homeless man tragically passed away outside City Hall overnight on Sunday, per the Baltimore Brew. The man’s death prompted an outcry from citizens for more support from the mayor’s office for the city’s homeless population as the winter sets in.
The city offers at least 100 additional beds for homeless residents when temperatures drop below 32 degrees with the wind chill, and 200 additional beds overall when wind chill temperatures drop below 13 degrees, according to the Health Department’s website. It also has a Code Blue Plan set for 2016-17 that says, among other measures, that “the City will encourage private homeless shelters to open for extended hours, in order to allow clients to remain indoors during the day.”
According to Hickey, when a Code Blue warning is issued, the city use the Weinberg Center as a shelter hub. As that fills up, the city workers then bus people to other shelters. When those are full, they open an overflow shelter that can house up to 75 people. Hickey said they are working on activating that shelter today.
“We assume ahead of time that every available shelter bed is going to fill,” he said.
The city also prioritizes bringing single adults to the Maryland Center for Veterans Education and Training, even if they aren’t veterans, on Code Blue days. The MCVET shelter can house up to 30 men and 30 women.
According to the plan, there are nine shelters in the city that will extend their hours or capacity on a case-by-case basis. Six of those shelters can expand their capacity by offering more beds to homeless residents.
Anyone around the city who sees a homeless or vulnerable person out on the street tonight is urged to contact police. “We’ll make sure the beds are there, but we don’t have the outreach teams available to find everyone who’s out there,” Hickey said.