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Code Blue signals extra shelter for those experiencing homelessness

Aimee Dilger
WVIA Photo
The blue light on Public Square in Wilkes-Barre signals when the city is under a Code Blue designation and an emergency shelter is available.

The blue light that shines on the coldest nights from the window of Keystone Mission in Scranton or on Public Square in Wilkes-Barre is an invitation: come in from the cold, we have room for you.

It signals to those experiencing homelessness in both cities that Keystone Mission’s emergency shelters are open for the night.

Executive Director Justin Behrens said Wilkes-Barre and Scranton will issue what is known as a Code Blue when temperatures drop below 20 degrees or there is more than a foot of snow in the area.

“We need to open up our doors to allow the homeless to stay overnight and get them out of the harsh conditions,” he said.

Keystone Mission works with both cities to issue the Code Blue designation and notify the community. Then, their shelters at the Transformation Center in Wilkes-Barre and Weston Field House in Scranton open overnight to accommodate anyone who does not already have space in another shelter.

The morning after a Code Blue, Behrens said those who stayed the night work with Keystone Mission volunteers and staff to connect with resources that can help with finding jobs, housing or other assistance.

“We listen to their story,” he said. “We refer all that information on that individual to our Innovation Center, which is like our day room.”

According to The Institute for Public Policy & Economic Development’s 2022 Indicators Report, Luzerne and Lackawanna Counties accounted for around 300 individuals experiencing homelessness in 2021.

Behrens said the population Keystone Mission sees is often transient, but still growing from year to year, particularly in Wilkes-Barre.

“Last year, we were seeing anywhere between 10 to 12 people that were staying in the shelter there,” he said. “This year, we’re up to 26.”

With plenty of cold nights still ahead, Behrens says Keystone Mission would welcome volunteers and extra blankets to get through the winter.

Sarah Scinto is the local host of All Things Considered on WVIA. She is a Connecticut native and graduate of King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, and has previously covered Northeastern Pennsylvania for The Scranton Times-Tribune, The Citizens’ Voice and Greater Pittston Progress.