Our Town Op-Ed: Helping the Homeless by Ben Kallos
Since the launch of “Ben in Your Building,” where I go to meet with residents in their homes along with their neighbors, co-op and condo boards, many of you have brought up the issue of homelessness as a serious and increasing concern. A recurring question is what you can do to help a homeless person in need.
Homelessness is on the rise. According to the New York City Department of Homeless Services there are a staggering 58,506 individuals in our shelter system. A surprising 42,343 of individuals in shelters are in families with children--part of a sad reality that 24,904, nearly the majority of our homeless, are just children.
Here is how you can help: If you see someone sleeping on the street whom you think is homeless, please call 311 within one hour and ask for them to dispatch a “homeless outreach team.” The operator will connect you with the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) who will ask about where you saw the person, what they looked like, and offer you a call back to report on the status of your call. The whole process should take less than five minutes.
Following your 311 call, an outreach team will be dispatched to reach out to the homeless person to offer them services, and DHS will call back with the results. If they have received multiple calls regarding one individual, they may flag that person for follow up so they can build a relationship leading to that person accepting the services they need.
“Code Blue” is implemented by DHS when the temperature drops below 32 degrees, wind chill goes below zero degrees, or during severe weather such as ice storms, freezing rain, or snow greater than six inches. Code Blue doubles outreach vans in the field and allows individuals to access services without going through the usual intake process. During severe winter conditions, your call could save a life.
In all cases, please call me and let me know how the 311 call goes and the results of the outreach team dispatched on your behalf.
Please also join me and 3,000 volunteers for the 10th Annual Homeless Outreach Population Estimate (HOPE) on Feb. 9 starting at 10:30 pm, to canvass the neighborhood and count how many people are living unsheltered. Training is available from DHS at Hunter College for a team that will survey the Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island. Sites are available throughout the city on a first come first served basis. Volunteers must be at least 18 or at least 16 and accompanied by an adult. The information collected will help their outreach teams improve support and services for our city’s homeless population. Please visit http://on.nyc.gov/hope-2015 or call me so I can help get you registered to volunteer.
The high and ever-increasing homeless problem is a symptom of our affordable housing crisis. As tenants lose their affordable housing in rent regulated apartments, families are left without anywhere else to go. Far too many of our city’s families are working one or more jobs, just to earn below the poverty line, trapped in a shelter with nowhere they can afford to move. Meanwhile children go to public school and back home to sleep in a shelter.
Beyond calling 311 and participating in HOPE, your advocacy for mandatory affordable housing in new development and funding for social services to support and build more shelters as well as supportive housing is essential to helping the homeless.
Remember, if you see a person on the streets who needs help, please call 311. These phone calls just take five minutes, but it is worth it to help a fellow New Yorker or even save a life.
Ben Kallos represents the Upper East Side on the New York City Council.