By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Call it a census of the homeless.
Every year, the New York City Department of Homeless Services (DHS) sends volunteers out onto the streets to count the number of homeless people. The agency is once again undertaking a survey of the homeless on Monday, Jan. 28, and is looking for volunteers to assist in the effort.
The survey, officially called the Homeless Outreach Population Estimate, or HOPE, begins at 10:30 p.m. and ends at 4 a.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 29.
Volunteers will be asked to show up at a specific location at 10:30 p.m. to undergo a brief training session and then travel around their assigned communities to talk to homeless people on the streets, in the parks, in the subways and in other public spaces and take a count of how many there are. The training session begins at 11 p.m. The survey of homeless people gets under way at 12:15 a.m. Volunteers will work in teams. After the survey is complete, volunteers will return to the training center to submit their data.
“HOPE is critical to helping DHS evaluate the effectiveness of our strategies to overcome street homelessness as well as developing appropriate housing resources for the most vulnerable New Yorkers currently living without shelter,” according to a statement from the agency.
The organizers of HOPE are urging volunteers to dress warmly that night and to bring their cell phones, a Metrocard, a flashlight, and a car if they have one. The car would be used only to transport the volunteers to the survey sites and back to the training center, according to DHS officials. The agency will have vans at the ready with staff members to take homeless individuals who express an interest in going to city shelters. The volunteers’ vehicles would not be used for that purpose, officials said.
DHS has conducted a HOPE survey every year since 2005. In that time, the number of people living on the city streets has declined from 4,395 in 2005 to 3,262 in 2012, according to the agency’s website.
The 2012 HOPE survey found 414 people living on the streets of Brooklyn. The largest concentrations of homeless people were found in downtown Brooklyn, East Williamsburg, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and Coney Island. Brooklyn has two so-called “drop-in centers” for the homeless to seek shelter. There are 23 faith-based organizations in the borough providing beds for the homeless.
Marnee Elias-Pavia, district manager of Community Board 11 in Bensonhurst, has served as a volunteer in previous years. “I found it to be quite an experience,” she told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. “The homeless aren’t who you think they are.”
There is a common belief that the homeless are crazy. But Elias-Pavia said many of the homeless people she came across were not insane at all. They were individuals who had their wits about them but were simply down on their luck, she said.
Two years ago, Elias-Pavia came across a woman on the streets that was homeless but who managed to hold down a job. “She was a working woman. She was homeless because she could no longer afford her apartment,” the district manager said.
There are small pockets of homelessness even in a solidly middle class community like Bensonhurst, Elias-Pavia said. There is a homeless man who sleeps in Milestone Park on 18th Avenue and 81st Street, she said. She also received reports from local residents of a homeless person camping out on the waterfront near Bay 19th Street.
“We always reach out to the precinct to see if we can help the person,” she said. The 62nd Precinct covers Bensonhurst.
Elias-Pavia said she hasn’t yet made up her mind whether she will volunteer again this year.
Registration is required in order to volunteer. For information on how to register, visit www.nyc.gov/dhs or email the agency at HOPE@dhs.nyc.gov. Residents can also call the department at 212-607-5366 to learn more about the survey.