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United Way of Lancaster County


Homeless coalition declares first ‘Code Blue’ of 2023-24

The common room at the Elizabethtown winter emergency shelter. (Source: ECHOS)

Lancaster County’s Homelessness Coalition activated a “Code Blue” at 10:38 a.m. Tuesday, Director Deb Jones said.

The declaration will remain in effect until further notice “due to projected overnight low temperatures,” the coalition said.

Under a Code Blue, homeless shelters and related providers are asked to expand their capacity if feasible. Day centers are asked to extend hours and outreach workers are asked to make extra efforts to bring unsheltered individuals inside.

As of early Tuesday afternoon, temperatures were projected to fall to as low as 14 degrees overnight Tuesday into Wednesday, well below the 20-degree threshold for a Code Blue declaration.

Highs are expected to creep above freezing on Thursday, but then to drop again Friday, with overnight temperatures again reaching the mid-teens.

Food Hub Executive Director Paige McFarling said the organization has completed its capacity expansion at its North Prince Street site and now has 80 beds there: The 40-bed shelter relocated in November from Ebenezer Baptist Church, plus 40 more beds provided as short-term winter emergency shelter. The Food Hub operates both halves of the shelter under contracts with the coalition.

Potential clients can reserve beds through an outreach worker. In recent days, reservations have been full but not everyone has turned up, McFarling said.

Beginning Wednesday, Tenfold is providing a couple of extra outreach workers so the shelter can open a little earlier in the evenings during the Code Blue, McFarling said. It’s a big help, and the Food Hub is thrilled to have it, she said.

The shelter also is making arrangements to stay open a little later in the mornings if needed, to allow more flexibility to cope with the weather, McFarling said. The shelter normally operates nigtly from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m.

In Elizabethtown, the ECHOS winter shelter has been seeing roughly 30 guests a night. It has 42 beds available, and has recently reconfigured its space to add a fourth room for families to its existing complement of three, Executive Director Brie Anderson said.

The nonprofit is working with staff and volunteers to extend shelter hours, she said: It stayed open until 10 a.m. Tuesday and plans to do so Wednesday, too.

Despite adding more than two dozen shelter volunteers to its roster, staffing remains a challenge, Anderson said. Many shifts have openings, especially weekends: Anderson encouraged potential volunteers to sign up on ECHOS’ volunteer portal.

The Food Hub has information here on its shelter volunteer opportunities and donation needs.