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'Code Blue' increases need for homeless shelter in Wilkes-Barre

Officials in Wilkes-Barre say more than 20 people are using the emergency homeless shelter right now.

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. — Bitter cold is forecasted for our area and the city of Wilkes-Barre this week, causing city leaders to declare a "Code Blue" for the first time.

"We have to provide someplace for the homeless to go. Temperatures get to be 20 degrees, or we get 12 inches of snow," said Mayor George Brown.

An emergency homeless shelter has opened up at the Calvary Bible Church in partnership with Keystone Mission while the 'Code Blue' is in effect (right now through Friday, January 21st).

"Normally what happens is people would go to the traveling shelter that everyone knows that's run by Catholic Social Services," explained Keystone Mission CEO and Executive Director Justin Behrens. "We added this 'Code Blue' for those that don't get to that shelter, or the shelter is filled and they don't have room. We open up our room so that they can have a place to stay."

The city announces the shelter to the media, but for those who don't have access to it, a blue light shining on Public Square indicates there is shelter available.

"Then what we do is we have our first responders actually go out if they see people that are homeless, they offer to show where to go or give them a ride. We make sure that they get to the Calvary Church," added Brown.

"So when you get into that building, you'll see that there's cots set up. There will be meals that they can have to eat. And what we do is we give them hygiene kits to get cleaned up and get everything taken care of," explained Behrens.

Mayor Brown says the response so far has been good.

"There has been no negativity at all. All we've gotten is is positive feedback. And when you have 29 or 30 homeless people together, you see the need is there for someplace for these folks to go that they're going to be warm. And safe in this type of a very cold environment," said Brown.

Behrens tells Newswatch 16 he'd like to build a permanent shelter for the homeless in Wilkes-Barre.

"And Keystone mission wants to make that happen because we see that there's a need, and we truly need to make that happen," added Behrens.

The shelter is open at the Calvary Bible Church on South River Street from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. and is in need of volunteers. 

If you are interested in volunteering, contact Keystone Mission by phone at (570) 871-4795 Ex. 406 or by sending an email to Volunteer@KeystoneMission.org.

Check out severe weather tips on WNEP’s YouTube channel.