Red Shield answers Code Blue in Buffalo

by Hugo Bravo

In January, The Salvation Army in Buffalo, N.Y., debuted a new location to help the community during winter’s Code Blue nights.

“Code Blue is the plan for any community when the temperature drops below 32 degrees. Anyone who is living on the streets or experiencing any kind of crisis at the moment has access to special shelters away from the cold,” says Major Annette Lock, director of county operations for The Salvation Army in Buffalo. “The Salvation Army here has had a separate family shelter that has provided housing services for 60 years, but this is the first time that we’ve been an official part of Code Blue. The county approached us directly in November, saying that this year, they only had one other Code Blue location.”

The idea was brought up to leadership; there would be a need for a facility, supplies, and staffing for the location.

“If we were going to do this, we were going to do it well. We had to advertise, do interviews with background checks for anyone we hired for the location, and we had to do it all during a busy kettle season,” Lock says. “At times, it was insane. But we knew that this was vitally important for Buffalo, and it was God’s vision for our city.”

Space that had been set aside during preparations for a larger Salvation Army building project was turned into the Army’s Code Blue shelter. The facility, having had all its programs relocated, would be free for months.

“The timing just happened to coincide with this; that was God working,” says Lock.

The Army’s development department sent out the notice on social media about the new Code Blue location. Almost immediately, Amazon packages and donations of sheets, blankets, and bedding began arriving at The Salvation Army.

“This city is known for its brutal winter season. Last year, 47 individuals died from the harsh weather,” Lock says. “Our community is vigilant about making sure that the most vulnerable are safe. They know that for some, this is a matter of life or death.”

On Jan. 3, the Army’s Code Blue location in Buffalo opened. Ten individuals used the facility; the following night, the number had gone up to 50. Lock expects the numbers to grow as the temperature in Buffalo continues to drop. She recently visited the shelter and got a firsthand report on how the shelter was meeting winter needs.

“As I walked in, two individuals came up to me and expressed how thankful they were to be here. One of them said it was the first real sleep he had in a month, and how he had missed dreaming while he slept. With us, he was not only warm but also felt safe, and that was when he was finally able to sleep and dream again,” says Lock.

“Hearing that reminded me of the importance of what we do. It’s a privilege to open our doors and create a safe space for folks like them.”