Tonight, the New York City Department of Homeless Services was supposed to conduct its annual Homeless Outreach Population Estimate (HOPE) and send 3,000 volunteers to canvas the city's parks, subways, and public spaces for a census of the city's homeless — estimated at almost 60,000.
Instead, the agency was forced to cancel the count and authorities declared a state of emergency, telling everyone to stay indoors as a massive blizzard begins to pound the city. Governor Andrew Cuomo called tonight "not an evening or night to be out" and Mayor Bill de Blasio told New Yorkers "to prepare for something worse than we have seen before."
While the Department of Homeless Services canceled 'HOPE' as up to three feet of snow were expected to paralyze the city, they instead dispatched 15 mobile outreach response teams to find homeless people through the five boroughs and take them to shelter.
"Our outreach efforts are in full force, we have doubled the number of outreach teams that are currently working through the five boroughs to bring anyone who isn't in shelter into shelter," Gilbert Taylor, the department's commissioner said at a press conference on Monday afternoon, asking the public for help.
"We ask anyone who you may see who may be in distress, please call 311 and we can dispatch a team to bring them into shelter," he said.
HOPE 2015 has been rescheduled for Monday, Feb. 9th due to a severe winter storm today and into tomorrow. Thanks to all our volunteers!
— NYCHomelessServices (@NYCDHS)January 26, 2015
"Intake shelters that usually admit individuals based on gender or family will now take walk-ins off the streets, and provide emergency cots," Patrick Markee, deputy executive director for advocacy at New York's Coalition for the Homeless, told VICE News.
Those shelters are well-stocked and ready to deal with the emergency, he added.
"New York has a vast public shelter system, so individual shelters do not run on a day-to-day basis," he said. "It's not like they're going grocery shopping tomorrow. They have the supplies necessary for these types of crises."
The city activated its severe weather "Code Blue" which allows homeless people to access any shelter, where beds will be made available to anyone walking in or taken in by outreach teams. Drop-in centers will also remain open 24 hours, and will accommodate as many people as possible.
New York City's homeless population reached a record high in 2014, up six percent from the previous year.
John Surico contributed reporting.
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