By Robertus and Jeff

Every winter is a bad time to be on the streets. But now it's also a dangerous and deadly time to be without shelter.

A "Code Blue" is called by the city when the temperature falls to 20 degrees or below, or if the wind chill factor yields a temperature below 20 degrees. (Wind chills in the Philadelphia region are expected to fall as low as -15 degrees Monday night and overnight Tuesday.)

Outreach workers, in cooperation with police, sweep areas of the city most likely to be inhabited by chronically homeless people, especially those known or thought to be less than able to care for themselves. Code Blue gives outreach workers and the police legal grounds to engage people on the street, and those who cannot effectively answer a list of "inability to care" questions are offered the means to get indoors, into shelters, cafes and safe havens. Under Code Blue, outreach teams can implement what is called a 302 commitment, a Court-Ordered Transportation to Shelter (COTS), to move individuals who resist seeking shelter and whose lives are in danger because of the weather.

In the worse cases, they are taken to one of the four crisis response centers, 302ing them at least temporarily. On dangerously hot days in the summer, the process is the same — except the city calls it "Code Red."

Those who show the ability to care for themselves are often left to do so, so the effort can focus on those who can't. The successful incidents are heartening, the failures heartbreaking. Anything from frostbite leading to amputation and/or death is common.

Some experts say the problem of street homelessness — the people you see living on the street — is not a homeless or economic issue but a mental health issue. When you see someone in distress in dangerous weather conditions, call 911 or the Homeless Outreach Hotline at 215-232-1984.

It seems to us a cruel paradox that in this country, with its ideal of personal rights, we can still deprive those who cannot take proper care of themselves. They are left to the "freedom" of freezing temperatures, blazing hot sun, and no real means of nourishing themselves.

Project HOME operates the 24/7 Homeless Outreach Hotline. People can call the hotline if they see anyone on the streets who is in danger because of the conditions, whether they are trying to sleep outside or entering abandoned buildings to seek temporary shelter.