Background: “Code Purple” is the term City of Asheville Planning & Development Department – Community Development Division – Homeless Initiative came up with for allowing shelters to waive normal occupancy limits when it’s “below 32° (or the equivalent with the wind chill factor).” This December 9th, 2010 announcement also said “Shelters offering Code Purple services include: [...] A-Hope [...]”
I got off the bus today at 8:25 am. The sign on a bank we passed said it was 31°. I was expecting to be able to go in A-Hope and get out of the weather. There was a chilly wind (so the effect on the body was colder than 31° – the “wind chill” was colder), and a fresh dusting of snow on the ground. I came in back to sign in, and a staff member said “we’re full.” (Meaning they are signing 50 people in each hour, rather than being open – “Code Purple” – where everyone can come in anytime.) I said “it’s 31°.” Then Heather Spencer, the Director, came out and said “it’s not Code Purple.” I went outside to wait until 9:00 am to sign in. What did Heather mean, it’ above 32°? A staff member came outside and I asked him where the outdoor thermometer was, that I wanted to read it myself, and he said they didn’t have one. So how do they know if it’s below freezing? (Figuring out the wind chill is harder…)
“Not Code Purple.” Well, Heather, the Mission disagreed with you. The Western Carolina Rescue Ministries had the “Code Purple” sign in the window, meaning you can sit in the chapel. No coffee, but you can get out of the cold. (No, I didn’t go sit in there…)
Around 9:30 am (I was in now) Amanda was complaining to a couple of people coming in the back who were not signed in for the hour (they didn’t go to sign in, they were sneaking in), saying “I know it’s 31° out there, I know it’s cold, but were full.” So they weren’t disputing the temperature… Later on I asked a staff member what their Code Purple criteria was, and she wasn’t sure – she acted like she thought it was ambiguous. Heather didn’t have any interest in telling me, she had just said “it’s not Code Purple” when I said it was 31°. (And again, she knew is was 31°, without the wind chill.)
So, Heather could let people in out of the cold, as the occupancy limit doesn’t apply in freezing weather, but she didn’t want to. This reminds me of her closing A-Hope for a day because someone was drinking alcohol on the property, and another time because someone left trash on a nearby property. (See other blog articles here.) She didn’t just send the perpetrator away (if they were identified), she sent everyone away. So what about the person that needed clean clothes from his container to change for work? Too bad. They weren’t letting anyone in, not even for a “container run.” Of course there will be the occasion where a homeless person does something stupid. Hello. Why make everyone else suffer for it? Imagine you are at the library, and someone uses their cell phone after being asked to turn it off, so they tell everyone to get out of the library. Exactly. Or, imagine the Fire Marshall and the city decide to waive occupancy limits for day and night shelters in freezing weather, and one of the shelters who put themselves on the Code Purple list (or was PUT on their because they get funding from the city) tells you, “yes, we know it’s freezing, but we have our own definition of Code Purple, and you can’t come in.” Exactly.
A-Hope provides much needed services, and these services and the help of the staff (when they are open) is very much appreciated.
- Trying to effect change by getting the word out.
****** UPDATE: Since the time of this article, and an e-mail to the Homeless Coalition, A-Hope has been going by the 32° definition of Code Purple.
(This article is the author’s opinion, as does not reflect any official position of of the Asheville Homeless Network.)