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Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Everybody Counts at HOPE 2019

On Monday, January 28th, more than 100 volunteers gathered with us at our Times Square residence late into the night for the annual HOPE (Homeless Outreach Population Estimate) survey. It was a chance for volunteers to step outside their comfort zone learn first-hand about street homelessness.

Organized by the New York City Department of Homeless Services, HOPE is an annual survey administered on one of the coldest night's of the year that attempts to estimate the number of people who are experiencing homelessness on the streets.

Every year since HOPE began back in 2005, Breaking Ground has recruited volunteers and canvassed the streets of Midtown Manhattan. This year was no exception. With generous support from our partners at JPMorgan Chase & Co. (who continue to make significant contributions to the development of our permanent supportive and affordable housing across the city), we welcomed more than 100 volunteers, along with leaders from our Street to Home program, to make sure that everybody counts.

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8:00 pm

Members of Breaking Ground's Junior Board arrive to help set up the room and prepare packets with survey maps, pads of paper surveys, instruction sheets, and emergency contact information for the 19 teams of volunteers who will soon arrive. We also run through the training presentation and video, making sure everything is ready for what comes next.

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10:30 pm

Volunteers begin arriving at the Times Square residence, sign in, receive their team assignments, and meet their Team Leaders. This year, we welcomed volunteers from our sponsors JPMorgan Chase & Co., along with teams from Macy's, Slate Property Group, Wells Fargo, Cigna, and Broadway Serves, along with our fantastic cadre of individual volunteers. This year was the first experience of HOPE for more than 50% of the volunteers who signed up.

Brenda Junior Board

11:15 pm

Breaking Ground CEO Brenda Rosen kicks off the night with a welcome and thank you message, before handing off to Brittany Alfarano from our Street to Home program. Brittany leads the volunteers through the survey forms, how to properly canvass survey areas, and safety procedures before showing the HOPE training video. At 11:45, teams have the opportunity get some snacks, regroup, and take a look at their surveys and maps one last time before heading out into the cold.

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12:00 am

All 19 teams step outside of the Times Square and onto the streets of Midtown Manhattan. A team of volunteers from JPMorgan Chase Co. (pictured above), led by Ramata Toure of our Street to Home program, made their way uptown on 8th Avenue toward 49th Street, where they begin to canvass the blocks laid out on the series of maps in their HOPE packet. Though not as busy as it is at 12 noon, Midtown Manhattan at midnight is not exactly quiet. With the mandate of administering a survey to everyone they come across while canvassing, volunteers are soon busy introducing themselves, asking a few short questions, and completing survey forms.

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1:30 am

After many blocks of administering survey forms to people who were on their way to work or home, or visiting from out of town, the team comes upon a series of people who are bedded down the for the night. Since it is a Code Blue night (when temperatures drop below 32 degrees or during significant weather events) the team takes Ramata's lead in gently waking people to make sure each person is safe and knows that the team can offer transport to a warm, temperature controlled environment for the night. After ensuring each person's safety, a survey is completed for everyone.

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2:30 am

After canvassing all of their surface street level maps, the team heads down onto the 1 Train subway platforms to complete the surveys for the transit portion of their area. Following the maps and instructions, the team waits for a train to arrive, and for people to exit the train, and then canvasses the platform over the next several minutes. They administer the survey to a few people who remain; everyone answers that they have a place to go for the the night.

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3:30 am

Back at the Times Square residence, teams return with completed surveys, warming up with coffee and (very early) breakfast sandwiches, and saying their goodbyes to one another. "This was a really fascinating and eye-opening experience," one volunteer remarks as we snap a photo of the team.

"We were able to help someone go to shelter tonight, and that was a really good thing," noted a Breaking Ground Junior Board member. "It was one of the last subway platforms we canvassed, and he left the train and didn't seem to have a place to go. When we administered the survey, he was really relieved we were there, because he wasn't sure what he was going to do."

As the volunteers pack up, Street to Home staff thank each member of the teams, make sure they have some of the helpful Breaking Ground outreach cards to take with them, and remind everyone that this was a glimpse into what our outreach teams do night after night, and day after day across Midtown Manhattan and all of Brooklyn and Queens. And that by continuing to engage with people, building relationships based on trust and respect, we'll help more people come off the streets and into housing.

The Days and Months Ahead: Beyond HOPE

The data collected during HOPE is analyzed, providing the City, Breaking Ground and our partners the best possible estimate of the scope of street homelessness by borough. Last year, HOPE estimated that 3,625 New Yorkers were sleeping outdoors on that cold winter night. The 2019 results will be released later this Spring, providing City and public officials with vital information, ensuring that we have the best possible capability to reach people in need of housing wherever they are.

See more photos from HOPE 2019 on our Facebook page.

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