Every year, the Homeless Outreach Population Estimate (HOPE) takes place at the end of January to estimate the number of unsheltered individuals in New York City. For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic, HOPE 2023 invited volunteers to once again help canvass areas across the city for individuals who are experiencing street homelessness.
Prior to the pandemic, HOPE volunteers were essential to completing the surveying of area maps throughout each of boroughs during the night of the count. To protect volunteers and limit the spread of COVID-19, the past two previous HOPE Counts were coordinated exclusively by borough homeless outreach providers. In our case, BronxWorks Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) was solely responsible for surveying all the area maps for the Bronx during those HOPE Counts, conducting the counts over three nights in 2022 and two nights 2021 to accommodate for the reduced number of counters.
Planning for this year’s HOPE Count started in October 2022. BronxWorks and other homeless service providers across the city met with the New York City Department of Social Services Office of Research and Policy Innovation to coordinate the city-wide survey. For the first time, the 2023 HOPE Count utilized a hybrid model of both traditional volunteers and homeless outreach teams. In previous HOPE Counts before the pandemic, the Bronx had five sites hosting HOPE volunteers while BronxWorks Homeless Outreach Team helped support the volunteer operations. This year, the City re-opened two volunteer sites in the Bronx at Hostos Community College and Lehman College. Volunteers from these two sites covered surveys for many of the area maps in the South and Northwest Bronx, while BronxWorks Homeless Outreach Team and staff volunteers covered surveys for the remaining 130 area maps throughout the Bronx.
Juan Rivera, Assistant Department Director of Adult Homeless Services, helped oversee the operation in the Bronx. He was joined by Homeless Outreach Team members, including Issa Asiedo, Homeless Outreach Team Outreach Coordinator, and Allyce Morrissey, Homeless Outreach Team Assistant Program Director. As always, staff from different BronxWorks departments and programs volunteered to join members of the Homeless Outreach Team. A total of 46 BronxWorks staff formed 22 teams utilizing 15 agency vehicles to canvas the 130 Bronx area maps. With the hybrid model of volunteers and homeless outreach teams, this year’s HOPE Count was once again completed in one night, from 11pm until 3am, allowing our teams to capture a more accurate representation of the homeless population on the street at a given time.
Juan is a veteran of the HOPE Count since 2008. Issa has gone on over 15 HOPE Counts, and Allyce is already on her third. Many other BronxWorks volunteers have notched multiple HOPE Counts in their careers, but others, like Aaron Cipollina, our Digital and Content Manager, joined for the first time. We spoke with the four of them to explain why the HOPE Count is so important.
Juan: The goal is to hopefully capture the work we are doing. We plan for the HOPE Count to be on one of the coldest nights of the year so we can get a sense of who is out on the street and who is not. It’s also important from the public perspective for the community to get involved and volunteer. It gives people one night of understanding what people are going through on the street.
Issa: I always look at it as a reflection of the work we are doing and the resources that we have over the years. It’s important for us to go out and see for ourselves how the situation has changed compared to previous years and to personally reflect on this work.
Allyce: The results of the HOPE Count help the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to allocate funding to services, so it is important for us to be as thorough and accurate as possible. It’s also important for the conversations we have between volunteers and people on the street, conversations that help us see why some people don’t want to go into shelters.
Aaron: I wanted to capture images of the people who are working and volunteering on that night. It’s a part that a lot of people don’t get to see, that Homeless Outreach really is working at all hours. And for me, working in Development and not in direct services, it was a rewarding experience to join people like Issa who have been doing this for so long and getting their perspective.
Now with the HOPE Count complete, the raw data from the night will be used to extrapolate official results that are expected later in April or May.