Project HOPE reaches out to the homeless

In an effort to reach out to the homeless population of New York City, St. John’s students gathered at the wee hours of the morning on Monday, Jan. 31st to walk the streets of Manhattan to make a difference and enhance the lives of others through genuine service. 

The Homeless Outreach Population Estimate (HOPE) brings New Yorkers together in an effort to improve outreach programs and ensure progress in the lives of homeless people. Volunteers are divided into teams and sent to different areas of the city, including outer areas of Brooklyn and Queens. The volunteer experience is described as “the biggest service project in NYC.”

The New York City Department of Homeless Services conducts this program to evaluate current programs and determine their success. Their mission, to “overcome homelessness in New York City, prevent homelessness wherever possible, and provide short-term emergency shelter and re-housing support whenever needed,” was thoroughly tested through Project HOPE. St. John’s students gathered for this mission, for a night of providing service to the less fortunate.

According to the NYC Department of Homeless Services, over 3,000 people participated in the volunteer project, spanning across five boroughs. They described volunteers as, “the eyes and ears of the City – canvassing streets, parks and other public spaces to identify individuals living unsheltered.”

Through a short, yet effective orientation, students were briefed about the evening, including the active participation of students surveying the homeless. Over 150 students were eager to participate, honored to work with others toward a progressive change in Manhattan.

St. John’s provided students with infree coffee mugs, a surplus of pizza and fresh brewed coffee. Students were then separated into groups and boarded buses to various site locations.

“It was really refreshing to see all the different types of students who dedicated time to providing for our homeless and looking out for their interest,” said student Aaron Miller.

The event was organized through the group STJ Service – which participates in various volunteer projects in an effort to represent the service values of the St. John’s community. STJ Service constantly updates their Facebook and Twitter, where students can stay up to date on events and opportunities to get involved.

Miller was placed with other students in Times Square at the Times Square Hotel which was recently converted into a permanent housing site for the homeless.

“Once we arrived, there were people of all color, gender and age there to help count the homeless and potentially provide them with service for the night,” he added.

Students were surprised to see they rarely came in contact with homeless people, which could prove as both a positive or a negative.

“It could appear negative because the low numbers could potentially create a false image of homelessness in NYC and report lower numbers of homeless than actual number,” said Miller. 

He then explained that it was positive because less people were sleeping on the streets, insinuating they had shelter in an indoor location.

Students came in contact with the homeless throughout the evening, finding they were receptive to questions, but often unwilling to accept offers of shelter. Overall, students found the night to be a step toward change and progress in the area of lessening the negative aspects of homelessness.

“It was a great night. I met other people who were dedicated to their communities, I had the chance to see a different face of NYC and offer assistance to those who need it most,” said Miller.

A statement was issued through the Department of Homeless Services stating, “With dangerous winter weather quickly approaching, we ask every New Yorker to dial 311 if they see a street homeless individual who may be in need of assistance,” said commissioner Diamond. “The participation of ordinary New Yorkers is vital to our street outreach program and continues to make a difference in the lives of individuals experiencing homelessness.”

St. John’s students were honored to be a part of Project HOPE, a progressive and eye-opening experience to transform the lives of the homeless population of NYC. Through service and volunteer experience, students are able to come together as a community and represent St. John’s in a superior manner.