During the evening of December 9th, 2013, Mr. Joseph Hanshaw, a homeless man in the City of Bridgeton, died after becoming entangled in the pull-down door of the Salvation Army Clothing bin. Police said the 50-years old Hanshaw was apparently looking for a coat or a warm place to sleep when the incident occurred. In the light of this tragic event, Mayor Kelly called on Rev. Ellen Rutherford, Captains James and Maria Stephenson, and myself to immediately put together the City and County’s first Code Blue initiative.
The Code Blue Program provides “warming centers” as a way for homeless persons in the community to find shelter from frigid overnight temperatures during the cold winter months.
From its humble beginnings in the basement of St. Andrews Episcopal Church, Code Blue is now in all three major municipalities: Bridgeton, Millville, and Vineland. The three municipal programs joined forces in 2015 to create the Cumberland County Coalition. This program is a grassroots movement of churches and community members responding to the basic needs of our homeless neighbors. Code Blue is a 100% volunteer-directed and donor funded program.
Last year, over 300 individuals became someone’s miracle by responding to the needs of the homeless as a registered volunteer in this lifesaving program of compassion in action. The volunteers in our community staffed 33 nights of Code Blue assistance last winter. This Cold Blue support provided warm shelter and food for over 70 homeless individuals in our three major cities. Last year alone, Code Blue provided over 3,000 dinners to our area homeless and needy, and a total of 1,500 overnight warming center stays for homeless individuals.
Cumberland County’s Code Blue Coalition has become a model for the State of New Jersey. In 2017, Governor Christie signed into law legislation requiring a statewide Code Blue Program for all 21 counties. Because of the efforts of our volunteer heroes, no homeless person in the entire state must sleep in the bitter winter elements.
The Cumberland County Code Blue Program is supported by contributions made to the M25 Initiative, which was started in 2015 to assist the efforts of the volunteers and to build upon the grassroots success. M25 stands for Matthew 25:35-36, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
Code Blue serves as God’s ambulance squad in triaging the effects of homelessness in our community, but the M25 Initiative is about changing the system. Working with a host of partners, we have formed the Cumberland County Housing First Collaborative. For the first time, nonprofits, government, the health and criminal justice systems, along with faith-based groups, are working together to bring an end to homelessness in Cumberland County by 2020. The fruits of this effort will be seen by the end of this year as we are working to house 42 chronically homeless individuals. However, we know that this is only the beginning.
The M25 Initiative, Code Blue Coalition, and Housing First Collaborative continue to demonstrate what happens when “We, the People” work together to form a “more perfect union” where no one is left behind. When we set aside our differences, focus on a common goal, and work hard with compassion and thoughtfulness, mighty things happen! Hope is contagious.
This story of hope is OUR story! It is a story that continues to unfold as people decide to “be the miracle” and change the world by creating ripples of hope in their neighborhoods. We do not need titles or money to make a difference, we just need to show up, stand up, speak up, and act for justice. Code Blue began with a couple of people with some cots and food, and now look what has happened! Imagine what other things we can do TOGETHER.
You are invited to join this story and write a chapter of love in action because it can’t happen without YOU. We need volunteers to give up some sleep so that someone doesn’t have to be in the cold overnight. We need churches to open their doors to provide rest to the weary. We need individuals and organizations to donate financial resources to help us in the mission to save lives and end homelessness. Will you join us and “be the miracle”?
To get involved in this movement of hope, please visit www.codeblueccnj.org, www.endhomelessness2020.com, or call 1-844-M25-HOPE. Contributions can be sent to the M25 Initiative, 31 N. Pearl Street, Bridgeton, NJ.
Dr. Robin B. Weinstein
President & Founder, The M25 Initiative
Chair and Co-Founder, Cumberland County Code Blue Coalition
Convener, Cumberland County Housing First Collaborative