Last week, I got an opportunity to lead a team for New York's annual HOPE (Homeless Outreach Population Estimate) survey. I didn't know what to expect while entering the public school near 33rd street. But there was anticipation because we were there to help the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) plan out their services. Outreach itself didn't scare me much. I have been doing that for three months for my own non-profit. Though the idea of staying out to walk the streets the whole night was slightly unnerving.
The volunteers signing us in were glad to find that I was a team leader. Good! The materials you need are on your table, they said. In the large room probably used for the school grade assembly I found almost 200 people sitting with their teams. I hadn't signed up with friends. It worked out well because I made four new.
The training, instructions, press coverage and all took us about an hour. Time the efficient me utilized for checking the maps and plotting our most efficient path one end to the other. It was good because we were given four staggered areas to survey.
We discovered before leaving we were one of the few teams with police escorts. Looking at our volunteer tags the MTA driver let us in without swiping our metro cards. Royal Treatment. We walked the streets for the next few hours, offered help to homeless that me met and even got a ride on the NYPD vehicle. When we returned, there again were clear printed instructions on what to do with the data we had gathered.
The whole event was very organized. The training material was simple with flowcharts, checklists and color coding. I shouldn't have been surprised. The material was designed by School of Professional Studies (SCPS), NYU for DHS. I made a mental note that to involve volunteers for activities like this you need to have material as crisp and clear as that. The organizers made sure we had everyone's contact information and note down ours. In a operation like this, steps like these ensure that everyone feels and is safe. Apart from a satisfying experience, I returned home with valuable lessons in how to best use of volunteers.