The COVID-19 Pandemic has presented new challenges to the BronxWorks Homeless Outreach Team (HOT), but they continue to provide critical services day in and day out. HOT is especially vital during the winter months when freezing nighttime temperatures result in Code Blue orders throughout the city. A Code Blue weather emergency is ordered on any winter night where the temperature drops to 32 degrees Fahrenheit or below. The HOT Team also played an essential role during New York City’s annual Homeless Outreach Population Estimate (HOPE) Count. In this story, we highlight how the BronxWorks Homeless Outreach Team continues to provide essential services throughout the year and especially during the severe winter months.
BronxWorks Homeless Outreach Team managed the entire HOPE Count for the Bronx over a three day event.
The HOPE Count is an annual survey of the street homeless population in every borough. In typical years, the HOPE Count is supported by over 3,000 volunteers city-wide, managed by the NYC Department of Homeless Services (DHS). Due to COVID-19 precautions, this year the HOPE Count was completed entirely by each borough’s designated homeless outreach provider. BronxWorks Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) provided the HOPE count for the Bronx.
The HOPE Count takes place on the last Monday in January, which is expected to be the coldest night of the year. HOT opted to split the count over three days in order to cover the 252 survey areas, known as “maps”, in the Bronx. Assisted by staff members from other BronxWorks departments, the group surveyed 134 maps during the first night, followed by 59 maps each of the following two nights.
The Team was supported by a digital dashboard to track the progress of each map surveyed throughout the night. The dashboard allows HOPE Count district captains to dispatch or reposition team members as the teams on the ground update data in real time. “It’s a huge improvement from having to call teams to track their progress throughout the night. It’s also great to have teams using an app to complete surveys, versus the paper surveys we’ve done in past years,” says Juan Rivera, the Program Director of the BronxWorks Homeless Outreach Team. This year they utilized virtual communication and coordination to avoid large groupings, carefully navigating the neighborhoods of the Bronx to create an accurate picture of the street homeless population on a given night.
Of the 51 areas where we saw people on the street, we predicted that we would find people in 48 of those areas,” said Juan Rivera when asked about the results of this year’s count. “We will use the information on the three areas that we didn’t predict to inform our outreach in subsequent years.”
Over the course of the three night count, the Team surveyed dozens of individuals in street locations throughout the Bronx. The raw count that the BronxWorks team collected will be submitted to NYC DHS, which is expected to release an official report for city-wide 2021 HOPE results in Spring or early Summer. Additionally, HOT helped transport three individuals that needed immediate assistance and referred the rest to warming centers and other resources.
Juan Rivera, Program Director of the BronxWorks Homeless Outreach Team, speaks about Code Blue at the Bronx Health & Housing Consortium Town Hall.
At a recent Bronx Health & Housing Consortium virtual town hall, members of the BronxWorks Adult Homeless Services Department spoke about homeless outreach amid the COVID-19 pandemic and during city-wide Code Blue alerts. Juan Rivera, Program Director of the BronxWorks Homeless Outreach Team said that despite some challenges and adjustments made due to COVID-19, street outreach, particularly during Code Blue alerts carries on largely as usual.
During a Code Blue alert, the HOT becomes the backstop to prevent any street homeless individual from succumbing to freezing temperatures outside. This responsibility remains their top priority. Oftentimes, HOT will help transport or arrange transportation for individuals they encounter to the BronxWorks Living Room Drop-in Center or warming centers setup throughout the borough.
Bronx hospitals have always been locations frequented by homeless individuals for services and for shelter. Working with Bronx hospitals to address the needs of these homeless individuals is an important function of street outreach for HOT. As a result, HOT incorporates a Hospital Coordinator as a part of their team to serve in a liaison role with Bronx hospitals. BronxWorks also developed an Emergency Department Housing Coordinator position stationed at certain Bronx hospitals to specifically target the hospital homeless population, but due to COVID-19, hospitals and BronxWorks agreed to restrict non-medical staff from the hospital premises. In addition to our Outreach Team, the NYC DHS has set up five warming buses at four locations, including hospitals, and one roaming bus to provide emergency shelter and transportation to homeless individuals identified outside during Code Blue alerts.
In New York City, if you identify a homeless individual outside and in need of assistance, call 311 or visit Home · NYC311. To learn more about the Bronx Health & Housing Consortium, their work, research, and programming, visit their website here.