Code Blue: an idea saving lives from the Utah cold

Jan 9, 2024, 7:00 AM | Updated: May 30, 2024, 8:25 am

A candle is held during the Homeless Persons’ Memorial Vigil in Pioneer Park in Salt Lake City in...

FILE: A candle is held during the Homeless Persons’ Memorial Vigil in Pioneer Park in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Dec. 21, 2023. A Code Blue has been issued in Salt Lake County. The Salt Lake City Council has released a list of emergency shelters available. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

(Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s Code Blue law is triggered when temperatures dip and it’s unsafe to be outside. In part, the alert opens up more resources, such as interior space, for those who live in the extreme cold.

This week, Code Blue alerts were triggered by falling temperatures in 20 Utah counties. 

What is Code Blue?

A new Utah law triggers the alerts. The law dictates that resource centers and other spaces expand their capacity. Namely, space can be increased by up to 35% if the National Weather Service predicts the temperature will fall to 15 degrees Fahrenheit or below, including wind chill.

Utah Rep. Steve Eliason was behind making Code Blue alerts a law in Utah. He credits a former intern as well as Wendy Garvin of Unsheltered Utah for sharing the idea.

“It’s been a very practical policy that has kept a lot of people out of the cold,” Eliason said.

Under the law, officials can use state-owned buildings to house homeless people during an alert.

“We do have a lot of state-owned buildings around Utah,” Eliason said, “and we just wanted to clarify in the legislation that was an allowable use, and they wouldn’t need to go back to the Legislature for approval to use it.”

He said he was unaware if officials were using state government buildings in Utah as shelter during intensive cold periods. He said other locations “pop up” during the alerts.

Word about extra shelter travels fast

People experiencing homelessness find out about these resources during extreme cold, Eliason said, because word on the street travels quickly. He added private and public agencies also have contact with the homeless to connect them with available resources.

“Now, there are also outreach bands from groups like Volunteers of America, of course [and] local law enforcement that will be out encountering people experiencing homelessness.

“They are sources of referrals, sometimes even rides, to either resource centers that are participating in Code Blue [that] will now have additional space or to other locations that are offering services during a Code Blue alert,” Eliason said. 

Related: Emergency shelters overflow as most of Utah remains under ‘Code Blue Alert’

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Code Blue: an idea saving lives from the Utah cold