West Point provides HOPE to homeless
By Maj. Mark Richards, G-3 Tactical Officer
It was a cold evening, well below freezing, when 2,000 volunteers stepped out on to the streets of New York City just after midnight to determine how many people in the city are homeless.
Twenty members of the West Point community participated in the seventh Homeless Outreach Population Estimate in New York City Jan. 26. The survey estimates the number of unsheltered people living on city streets, subway platforms, parks and other public places to help gauge the success of outreach strategies against street homelessness.
The task was simple -- approach everyone we came across and ask them a few simple questions: Do you have a place to stay tonight? What kind of place is it?
If they didn’t have anywhere to go, they would be given a ride to a local shelter for the night if they desired it.
Some groups came across only a few people bundled up and asleep on the streets while other groups interviewed dozens of people on subway platforms.
The group of West Point volunteers joined members of Common Ground, a leader in developing solutions for ending homelessness, to count neighborhoods in mid-town Manhattan.
Becky Kanis, a 1991 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy and the director of innovations for Common Ground, met the group at the Times Square Hotel and spent time before the count began talking about how people become homeless.
“The Times Square Hotel is the largest permanent supportive housing project in the nation with 652 units,” Kanis said. “And we housed 450 of the longest street homeless New Yorkers in a six-month period last year.”
She said about 102,000 people are homeless in the United States. The 2008 HOPE in New York City determined there were just more than 3,300 unsheltered people living in the five boroughs, which was a 25 percent decrease since 2005.
“This is a community’s responsibility to solve this,” Kanis said.
Many cadet volunteers had their eyes opened during the trip.
“I cannot believe how completely ignorant I was about homelessness,” Firstie Loris Lepri said. “My perspective has completely changed and I am very glad that I participated in the program.”
Cow Derek Henricks also had his mind changed about homelessness.
“The next time I travel to New York City and walk past someone standing on the sidewalk asking for money, I will better understand the situation they are in because there are so many variables that cause homelessness,” he said.
Homelessness also indirectly affects the military as about 25 percent of homeless people are veterans.
More information about homelessness and how to participate in next year’s HOPE can be found at www.nyc.gov/dhs.