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Close encounters with desperation on the streets of NYC

Volunteers can help collect data on where the city’s homeless people

A man seeking money for a room begs

A man seeking money for a room begs sits at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street in Manhattan on a cold night, Jan. 4, 2016. Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images / Timothy A. Clary

On Monday night, the city Department of Homeless Services will hold the annual Homeless Outreach Population Estimate survey, meant to gauge the number of people living on streets, in parks, on subways, and all around the city without shelter.

You can help.

The agency seeks volunteers to walk the city from 10 p.m. Monday to 4 a.m. Tuesday, collecting data on where New York’s street homeless people live. The survey helps the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development determine funding levels, and last year’s point-in-time event estimated 3,675 unsheltered individuals (thousands more homeless New Yorkers live in shelters).

Go to NYC.gov/hope to register or find out more. It’s bound to be a cold night, but it’s even colder for the New Yorkers who spend every evening on the streets.

It has been a tough few weeks for those New Yorkers. DHS has operated under a Code Blue warning almost every day this year. Code Blues occur when the temperature drops to or below freezing between 4 p.m. and 8 a.m., with wind chill taken into account.

During these periods, the agency increases outreach (partially with data found during HOPE surveys) and speeds shelter entry. Some homeless individuals accept the offer. On cold nights, that can be lifesaving.

Some New Yorkers with nowhere to go tend spend these freezing nights in the subway system. Maybe you’ve noticed more homeless people on the train in the last few weeks. With the bitter cold, people sometimes complain about the homeless people impeding their subway rides.

Sometimes, a distraught person on the subway can be disruptive, and that can be unpleasant. But have a heart for those sheltering underground. You’ll be home soon, they’ll be grabbing a fretful night’s sleep while the doors open and close through the hours, cold wind coming in on the long journey to morning or the end of the line.

You always can call 311 and ask for an outreach team for a homeless person who needs assistance.

Spring is a while away, and it’s a long winter. Time to lend a hand.

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