More than 140 Fordham students, faculty and staff fanned out across the bone-chilling streets of the Bronx beginning at midnight on Jan. 27, to participate in the city’s sixth annual Homeless Outreach Population Estimate (HOPE) 2009 street survey.
The event marked the fourth consecutive year that the University has provided the largest number of volunteers of any institution for the annual count of the city’s homeless population, representatives of the Bronx Citizens Advice Bureau said. The University was designated as a training center for volunteers in the Bronx by the city’s Department of Homeless Services.
Donning fleece-lined aviator hats, leg warmers, down vests and other barriers against 20-degree temperatures, each volunteer group surveyed a 20- to 30-block area from midnight to 4 a.m., questioning anyone they found on the streets, subways or in parks. Groups worked with the New York City Police Department and the Department of Homeless Services to move anyone they found living on the streets into a shelter.
“The HOPE count is a measuring stick for the city to see how well we are doing in eliminating street homelessness,” said CAB coordinator Noel Concepcion. “The people we are going to find out there tonight, in this temperature, truly are the neediest.”
During the pre-count training session, students, faculty and deans mingled in rare late-night camaraderie around community service.
“I’m here to raise awareness about the plight of the homeless and the poor in our city,” said Donna Rapaccioli, Ph.D., dean of the College of Business Administration (CBA). “Social justice is at the heart of [Fordham’s] mission; and volunteering tonight brings that mission together with our actions.”
John D. Feerick, Norris Professor of Law, director of Fordham Law School’s Feerick Center for Social Justice and a former Special Master of Family Homelessness under the Bloomberg administration, called homelessness “one of the center’s critical areas of concern.” The center, which was one of the event’s supporters at Fordham, helps arrange pro-bono services for the disenfranchised.
Feerick joined a contingent of law students and faculty to gauge the extent of the homeless population outside of the shelter system “not by reading about it, but by seeing it ourselves,” he said.
The number of volunteers citywide was estimated at more than 2,000. A portion of the volunteers were used as decoys, posing as homeless people in survey areas to ensure the precision and accuracy of the count.
Once the information is compiled, the final number will have some bearing on federal aid made available under the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Concepcion said.
Kristie Beaudoin, a sophomore at Fordham College at Rose Hill and a resident assistant at Alumni North, said she recruited freshmen for the count. “It is a good way to do community service that lasts more than one night,” she said. “The count helps for the entire year.”
Teams returned to the McGinley Center by 4 a.m., where volunteers from the University’s Community Service Program helped compile the data.
FCRH senior Christina Schwall, a four-year veteran of the HOPE count, took the cold temperatures and the late hours in stride; she said she would be back on the Fordham campus at 8 a.m., volunteering as a physics tutor for the HEOP program.
“I’ll get through it,” said the Clare Booth Luce Scholar, “and sleep afterward.”