The city that never sleeps: HOPE Count 2015

It was 11:00 p.m. on a cold Monday night but instead of heading home, over 100 enthusiastic volunteers were just gathering in the lobby of the Times Square residence in the heart of midtown Manhattan. It was time for the annual overnight homelessness count.

The Times Square is the largest supportive housing site in the country, owned and operated by Common Ground, a nonprofit dedicated to helping the homeless. Each winter, the Times Square serves as home base for the midtown portion of the city’s annual Homeless Outreach Population Estimate (HOPE). HOPE Count is a unique overnight event during which volunteers fan out across the city and conduct a census of New Yorkers sleeping outside. The information gathered that night is invaluable, as it helps us adjust our efforts to make the greatest possible impact on helping the chronically homeless to realize better lives.

As midnight drew closer, volunteers assembled into teams, filled up on coffee, and posed for photos with signs emblazoned with slogans like “after all, it’s the city that never sleeps.”

Fifty-four Common Ground staff and 48 volunteers sacrificed sleep to take part in this critical effort, including teams from Bank of America, Grand Central Partnership, and Times Square Alliance. Twenty-four teams canvassed the entire width of midtown Manhattan, from 59th Street to 42nd Street and in some cases down to 34th Street.

Volunteers were instructed to approach every person they encountered and ask them a short series of questions about their housing situation. The goal was to get an accurate count of people who were truly “street homeless.”

After walking their assigned areas, participants returned to The Times Square between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m., feeling “cold,” “proud,” “amazed” at what they’d just seen and done.

“We got out of our comfort zones to try to help other people on the coldest night of the year,” said Common Ground staff member Eduardo Velazquez.

“It was really good working with my co-workers as a team, outside of the job. It also filled me with gratitude for what I have,” said another volunteer from Grand Central Partnership. “You know, you spend a lot of time thinking about what you need. And sometimes you don’t really appreciate how much you have. And tonight, I feel like I have a lot.”

Common Ground is grateful to its many dedicated volunteers, many of whom return year after year and to Dell D’ae Catering, who provided snacks all night long. Sincere thanks also to Bank of America for generously underwriting the event.

Results of the census will be available later this spring.