From late December 2017 to early January 2018, Philadelphia saw one of the most extreme sustained cold snaps in city history. In response, the Office of Homeless Services (OHS) activated a 15-day-long Code Blue.

During this time, OHS worked with other City agencies and partners providing:

  • 24-hour outreach and transport to safe indoor spaces.
  • Beds within the emergency housing network to all people who are homeless.
  • Safe, warm indoor spaces at emergency housing centers during the day.

As a result of these and other efforts, no homeless individual in Philadelphia died of exposure during the frigid two weeks.

Throughout this most recent Code Blue, thousands of Philadelphians saw and shared tweets and Facebook posts about the Code Blue with the outreach hotline, 215-232-1984.

Likewise, OHS and partners deployed a total of 500 beds and cafe spaces. “All the providers went the extra mile to keep people safe and warm,” explains OHS Director Liz Hersh. “Only three people were turned away, and they were able to be accommodated elsewhere. We had just enough space.”

While the city saw zero deaths as a result of the dangerous cold, some individuals refused to come inside no matter what, often because of serious mental health issues.

As a result, OHS worked with other City officials to ensure that 16 people who refused shelter were kept safe during the Code Blue.

The City’s warming center at Cione Rec Center in the Kensington-Fairhill neighborhood was a particularly important resource. Many Philadelphians who typically refuse services, often as a result of active addiction, sought refuge in the warming center.

All told, about 400 people used this and another volunteer-run warming center.

Along with the many volunteers and partners who worked tirelessly to protect Philadelphia’s most vulnerable residents, buildings, boilers, and heaters worked overtime, too.

“Like so many homes and buildings in Philadelphia some of our buildings had power outages, floods, burst pipes, or other problems occur that threatened our ability to keep people housed,” Hersh says. Nonetheless, emergency housing and facilities staff swung into action and worked diligently to ensure that people could stay safe and warm.

“During this 15-day Code Blue,” Hersh observes, “even some of our creaky old buildings pulled their weight.”