NEW YORK—Volunteers rallied en masse to sweep all five boroughs Monday night, conducting the eighth annual Homeless Outreach Population Estimate (HOPE) survey.
About 3,600 New Yorkers braved the cold and fatigue to stay up until 4 a.m. walking through the streets and subway stations to count all the homeless people in the city, data required by the federal government to receive funding for homelessness assistance.
Surveyors asked every person they met whether that person has somewhere to stay for the night. A second question on the survey allowed volunteers to give their opinions about whether the person is homeless or not, in spite of the answer or lack of answer. If the person is bedded down for the night, or has many shopping carts and bags and appears disheveled, the volunteer is instructed to note it on the survey sheet.
While not the main objective of the survey, volunteers also offer shelter and services to the individuals, especially on a “code blue” night such as Monday, when the extreme cold could jeopardize their safety.
One argument some have against the accuracy of the survey is that many of the homeless who do not stay in shelters sleep in nonvisible locations. Surveyors are only asked to walk the streets, not to enter buildings or subway cars or any other location a homeless person may choose to seek refuge from a cold winter night.
In a September 2007 study, Columbia University and New York University researchers noted "the apparent ease with which some of the counting teams deviated from their instructions. In particular, reports of counters walking entirely past plants [individuals serving as decoys to insure accuracy] typify the practice of discounting, that is, ignoring certain street occupants because ‘they don't look homeless' and instead, according to some tacit guide, approaching only those who do."
Those conducting the survey did, however, clearly instruct volunteers to ask every person they see on the street and decoys are in place to make sure surveyors are following instructions.
“The count is good in and of itself for counting the homeless people, but that's not the problem,” said Genghis Khalid Muhammad of Picture the Homeless, an organization formed by the homeless for the homeless. “The people are not the problem, housing is the problem,” he asserted at a press conference held by Borough President Scott Stringer Monday evening before HOPE began.
Counting Houses, Not Homeless
“We are only doing 50 percent of the research we need to responsibly and creatively tackle the homelessness crisis and identify new potential sources of housing in New York City,” stated Stringer in a press release.
Counting Houses, Not Homeless cont.