Bucks County Code Blue group seeks more homeless shelters in Lower Bucks

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As winter approaches, advocates for the homeless and those in need search places of worship in Lower Bucks County for help in a vital mission: sheltering the homeless at night. Code Blue when temperatures drop to 26 degrees or lower.

Two churches, Woodside Church in Lower Makefield and Calvary Baptist Church in Bristol have long offered this service, but two other sites are also needed. Each would offer shelter on Code Blue nights for a month from December 1 to March 31.

Volunteers are also needed.

On Code Blue nights, accommodations need 18 volunteers to serve as bus drivers and helpers or to prepare meals, set up beds and greet guests. Night shifts run from 10:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. and from 2:30 a.m. to 7:00 a.m.

“It takes our faith from words to action,” said Pastor Doug Hoglund of Woodside Church. “Code Blue takes our eyes off ourselves and on others. Sometimes it’s hard, but the blessings far outweigh the sacrifices.

Woodside has been providing shelter since AHTN launched the program in 2009. But before COVID, there were four participating places of worship. Now there are only two who share two months each.

Last year, AHTN opened 52 nights with a total number of guests served at 159, averaging 27 per night, volunteer Carol Carter said.

“The Code Blue team is doing a great job breaking this big mission down into manageable roles, but that means we need a lot of hands and hearts to open the shelter on freezing nights,” Hoglund said.

Calvary Baptist Pastor Dan Young said Calvary had a learning curve in helping the homeless.

“We needed a ‘faith stretcher’ to challenge our people. Several members of the congregation rose to the challenge quite well,” he said.

Cots set up at Woodside Church in Lower Makefield provide bedding to homeless adults during the freezing nights of Code Blue through a program coordinated by advocates for the homeless and those in need.  More places of worship and volunteers are needed this year to help keep the homeless warm and protected on cold nights.

Both pastors said they had benefited from seeing their congregations involved and volunteering.

“There were times when my wife and I served side by side on the 2:30 to 7 a.m. night shift,” Young said. “We enjoyed living our faith together. I also enjoyed watching the people of Calvary lose their fear of homelessness and develop friendships.

Karen Mineo, executive director of the AHTN, said the organization has found that working with religious organizations to shelter the homeless is better than using space in secular buildings, because places of worship aim to help people in need. Volunteers receive training on how to help the homeless.

But there are people who refuse help.

“The number of new homeless people has increased, but they’re not necessarily coming to shelters,” Mineo said. “Many use drugs and alcohol. We try to help them.

However, people who are actively high or intoxicated, or who want to bring drugs or alcohol with them, are not allowed in shelters. They will often stay with propane heaters in wooded areas, Mineo said.

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The AHTN offers other services to homeless people, and 39 places of worship participate in its “Wheels to Meals” program where homeless people are transported each evening to a different church, synagogue or other religious location for a hot meal served by volunteers.

For more information on the Code Blue program, contact AHTN at [email protected] or call 215-380-3868.

In Central Bucks, the Coalition to Shelter and Support the Homeless and in Upper Bucks, the Homelessness Advocates in the Upper Bucks offer similar Code Blue emergency shelter programs.

Several organizations help solve housing problems

Bucks County also coordinates with several social service agencies to help families and individuals struggling with housing and homelessness.

The Bucks County Homeless Emergency Shelter on Library Way in Levittown is operated by the Bucks County Family Services Association but it has a waiting list of families in need of shelter and provides long-term care to those admitted in hopes of returning them to a more stable life.

Other religious and secular social service agencies also provide support for the homeless. They are listed on the County Hub website under Housing and emergency shelter.

For more information on all housing services in Bucks County, visit Bucks County Housing Link at https://www.buckshousinglink.org/ or call 1-800-810-4434.

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