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Wednesday, January 29, 2020

HOPE 2020 Goes Digital

From late in the evening on Monday, January 27th into the early hours of Tuesday, more than 100 Breaking Ground volunteers turned out for HOPE (Homeless Outreach Population Estimate) 2020. With our Times Square residence as the base, 22 teams fanned out across Midtown Manhattan to administer the survey – and for the first time this year, recorded responses through a mobile application on smartphones. It was a chance for volunteers to step outside their comfort zone to learn first-hand about street homelessness.

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Organized by the New York City Department of Homeless Services (DHS), HOPE is an annual survey administered on one of the coldest nights of the year, and attempts to estimate the number of people who are experiencing homelessness on the streets.

Our partners at DHS use the HOPE data to track progress over time, analyze shifts in where people are experiencing street homelessness, and adjust resources. HOPE is part of a HUD requirement – all places that receive HUD funding for homeless services are required to do a “point in time” count of unsheltered individuals at least once every two years. NYC has conducted the survey every year since 2005. HOPE is a snapshot and a way to benchmark changes over longer periods of time. It’s not meant to be a perfect measure, but it’s the best one we have.

Since HOPE first began back in 2005, Breaking Ground has recruited volunteers and canvassed the streets of Midtown Manhattan, just as we did in 2020. 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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Volunteers began the night at our Times Square residence, where they signed in, received team assignments, and met their Team Leaders. We were joined this year by volunteers from a diverse array of companies and organizations, including the Robin Hood Foundation, Wells Fargo, Trinity School, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Gotham Organization and Blackstone.

Breaking Ground CEO Brenda Rosen kicked off the night with a welcome and thank you message, before handing off to Britt Melewski from our Street to Home program. Britt led us through the new mobile app, how to properly canvass survey areas, and safety procedures. Volunteers had a chance to ask any final questions before heading out into the cold at midnight.

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A team of volunteers that included Breaking Ground board member Michael Lascher, his wife Nancy, along with staff member Aminah Yoba, were led by Megan Gilbreth, a member of Breaking Ground’s Program staff and a former Team Leader with our Street to Home outreach. The team made their way uptown on 8th Avenue toward the two survey areas they were assigned through the app. Though not as busy as it is at rush hour, Midtown Manhattan at midnight is still quite busy on a Monday night. With the mandate of administering a survey to everyone they come across while canvassing, this team was soon busy completing surveys.

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Some people the team came across were leaving Midtown bars and restaurants, others were waiting for friends or coworkers, or on their way to and from work. The team also came across people who were experiencing homelessness – a small group on the edge of Times Square, an older gentleman bedded down who insisted he had a plan to go somewhere warm if it got too cold, and someone who said yes to transport to a drop-in center. Megan took the lead to ensuring each person's safety, and the team completed a survey for each individual.

Back at the Times Square residence, teams began to return from completing their survey areas, and warmed up with coffee and snacks. Meanwhile the team leaders sat down with the data team to ensure that their recorded surveys matched up, making notes about any mistakes that might have been made.

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As the volunteers packed up, Street to Home staff thanked each member of the teams, made sure they had additional Breaking Ground outreach cards to take with them, and reminded 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.

In the months ahead, the data collected during HOPE will be 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 3,588 New Yorkers were sleeping outdoors on that cold winter night. The 2020 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 who are living unsheltered, wherever they are.

See more photos from HOPE 2020 on our Facebook page.

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