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VIDEO: This is how New York City handles your calls about the homeless

May 9, 2018

It’s something that happens just about everyday. A New Yorker spots a homeless person on the street. Sometimes this person is seen as in dire need of help. Sometimes they are seen as a nuisance. In either case, a call is made to New York City’s 311 system.

Then what happens?

A dispatcher takes the report and reaches out to the outreach workers who for better or worse provide the personnel on the frontlines of dealing with the city’s ongoing homelessness crisis. While they can work for different nonprofits like Breaking Ground, CUCS, Bowery Residents’ Committee and Goddard Riverside, the job is pretty much the same: find the person, offer services and report the interaction.

The following video shows what happens when New Yorkers make that call and outreach swings into action.

About 23,000 calls to 311 about homeless people were made in 2017 to the Department of Homeless Services, according to city data. The volume of calls increases dramatically in summer months with the lowest numbers reported around the new year. The number of calls per month hovered between 1,500 and 2,000 during the spring and summer months last year, but  less than 800 came in during February 2018, according to records made available through NYC OpenData.

The process behind this facet of the city’s approach to homeless outreach is just one element of an overall strategy that began in the Bloomberg administration. It emphasizes housing and is less punitive than past strategies, as Thomas Main, a professor at the Baruch College School of Public Affairs, told NYN Media in a 2016 Insights podcast.

As Gov. Andrew Cuomo implements the latest phase in a five-year plan to combat homelessness, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio faces renewed criticism over his handling of the crisis, it’s worth taking a look at how it all works in practice.

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