HOUSING + HOMELESSNESS

Code blue bill would open emergency beds at 18 degrees

Feb 26, 2024, 9:17 AM

People experiencing homelessness walk in the street near a winter overflow shelter at St. Vincent d...

FILE: People experiencing homelessness walk in the street near a winter overflow shelter at St. Vincent de Paul in Salt Lake City as it opens ahead of a winter storm. On Tuesday afternoon, officials announced that Salt Lake County is in a Code Blue status. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

(Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY– The legislature is considering whether to raise the temperature for when counties open emergency beds during Code Blue Alerts.

A Code Blue alert requires counties in Utah to open overflow beds for the homeless when the thermometer falls to 15 degrees. State Rep. Steve Eliason wants to raise the required temperature. 

“I’ll call it a modest modification in the code blue alert, from 15 degrees to 18 degrees,” said Eliason in a committee hearing on February 9th.

Eliason’s bill, Homeless and Vulnerable Populations Amendments could bring more people out of the cold more often. However, the new threshold would still be only halfway to the freezing temperature in Fahrenheit.

Homeless advocates have been calling for a higher Code Blue temperature for at least a year. Last month, snow and wind chill sent people to emergency bed centers in 18 counties, according to KSL TV.

“Last night, I think there were about 20 to 30 people who couldn’t get in,” Carl Moore from the 2nd and 2nd Coalition told KSL TV. Moore added “The code blue standard is 15 degrees. We like to stick to 25 degrees.”

The bill does more than raise the required temperature. It would also allow the Utah State Hospital in Provo to contract outside entities to help reintegrate the homeless into society.

While Eliason says it’s highly unlikely it would happen, the bill creates a punishment for cities and counties that decide not to implement homeless services up to state requirements: a loss of homeless-focused funding from the Department of Public Safety.

The bill passed the State House of Representatives. It now awaits a vote on the Senate floor.

Related: Code Blue: an idea saving lives from the Utah cold

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Code blue bill would open emergency beds at 18 degrees