Friday, February 12, 2016

Roosevelt Island Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Member Frank Farance Volunteers And Reports On NYC Hope Overnight Homeless Count Earlier This Week

The annual NYC Hope Homeless Count took place overnight on February 8-9.

One of the NYC Hope Homeless count volunteers was Roosevelt Island Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) member Frank Farance. Mr. Farance shares these photos and reports on his experience assisting in the NYC Hope homeless count.
As a NYC CERT member, we were asked to volunteer for the NYC HOPE count,

which counts homeless people who are living on the street at night. The purpose of the survey is to get an accurate count of people, estimate need and services, and reach out to bring homeless into shelters. The event starts at 10 PM, there is some training, walking the streets for 2-3 hours, follow-up paperwork at the home base, and you're done around 4 AM.

There were approximately 20 centers in the 5 boroughs, and approximately 3000 volunteers City-wide. I was in the Hunter College center, with approximately 120 volunteers who discovered and counted approximately 120 homeless people in our survey zone.

Before the evening started, Council Member Ben Kallos

introduced the topic and emphasized the importance of calling 311 to report homeless: the City will send an outreach team. Even if the homeless person remains night after night and refusing the shelter, he encouraged repeat calls to 311 because the outreach team will keep coming back and, hopefully, at some point the homeless person might develop some level of trust with the outreach people and finally accept shelter.

The temperatures were below freezing and it was snowing, so we had a different procedure: Code Blue. In this condition, we are not just surveying homeless, we are also assessing their safety: Do they have enough clothing to stay warm? Are they away from any immediate dangers? Normally, if a homeless person were "bedded down for the night", we would not wake or disturb them. However, because it is so cold, we must gently wake them to make sure they are OK and, if in danger, we must wait by them until the situation is corrected.

The survey involves a particular canvas methodology that results in covering each street and sidewalk once.  If you're a mathematician, familiar with graph theory, and the Seven Bridges of K√∂nigsberg problem (a puzzle involving walking path that only crosses each bridge once), well that's sorta the frame of mind you need to be in, which is not easy walking the streets of Manhattan at 2 AM on a cold and snowy night (Park Avenue).

Our team was testing a new mobile phone app for survey-support technology. Once out in the field, pulling out a cell phone is impractical, and the app didn't work in the subways.

Our team was given an extra assignment: Looking for homeless people in a portion of Central Park behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art, between 79 and 85 Streets.

If you find it easy to get lost in Central Park during daytime with all the trails, transverse roads, and horse carriages, well nighttime can be easily disorienting.

We had police escort (NYPD) for the Central Park and subway portions of our survey.

Fortunately, I was the team's "navigator" and I got to use some "nighttime pilotage" techniques for figuring out where we were in the park and where to go -- all without GPS. Our Central Park patrol ended with a search for homeless on Fifth Avenue abutting the park.

The next assignment was the subway, and we were to meet NYPD are a particular place and time on a subway platform. We found two homeless people.

It turns out, that these homeless people are "decoys": they are planted there to test how accurately we are doing the survey and whether or not we've covered our territory. And, very interestingly, they are in fact homeless people but they are making money this night ($75) as a City-employed "decoy" to assist in the survey Quality Assurance -- what a novel idea!

Last assignment was 58 to 64 Streets from Park Avenue to Fifth Avenue, sounds simple, but it is actually 48-block segments (as per graph theory), and that is about 2.5 mile walk.

I highly recommend volunteering for this effort next time around. It was nice to be part of a large City-wide effort to help the homeless, the volunteers were all in good spirits and excellent to work with.
More information on the NYC Hope Homeless Count and how you can help here.