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United Way of Lancaster County


Homelessness Coalition ends ‘Code Blue,’ prepares for Point in Time count

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

With temperatures headed upward after a week of cold and snow, Lancaster County’s Office of the Homelessness Coalition lifted its Code Blue at 7 a.m. Tuesday.

“Fortunately, warmer weather is on the way,” the office’s director, Deb Jones, said.

The Code Blue had been declared the previous Tuesday, Jan. 16. Under a Code Blue, the coalition’s members are encouraged to increase their capacity and extend hours.

Shelters did indeed see increased demand, Jones said; in particular, city-based shelters were at capacity or close to it.

The region saw two significant snowfalls last week, on Tuesday and Friday, with overnight temperatures falling below 20 degrees on multiple days. That easily met the county’s Code Blue criteria, which call for a declaration when temperatures are below 20 degrees, wind chill is below zero, or there is “extreme” precipitation.

Tonight, meanwhile, marks the start of the coalition’s annual “Point in Time” or PIT count, a tally of individuals sleeping outdoors and in local shelters. Dozens of volunteers will be fanning out across the county this evening and Thursday morning as part of the annual count, which is mandated as a condition of the county receiving U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development funds for homelessness services.

Potentially complicating the count of people outdoors: Last Wednesday, city police issued trespassing warnings and told people congregated around the perimeter of Binns Park to vacate the premises. Advocates say that can increase homeless individuals’ wariness and reluctance to be approached.

The area around the park under the County Government Center overhang is county property. County officials have repeatedly asked for enforcement of the trespassing law there, saying the constant presence of unsheltered people there has led to unacceptable hygiene and public safety issues.

The coalition has held multiple meetings with city and county officials, Jones said, to understand their concerns around Binns Park and how they can be addressed while maintaining outreach efforts.

“Especially this week, with the point in time count coming, we need to ensure continued relationship with people who are unsheltered,” Jones said, “because it takes a long time for social services to engage with them and build trust.”