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Annual Homeless Count a First For New DHS Leader

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TWC News: Annual Homeless Count a First For New DHS Leader
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The city's new homeless services commissioner, along with thousands of volunteers, surveyed the number of homeless people living out of shelters early on Tuesday. NY1's Courtney Gross filed the following report.

Every year volunteers sprawl out across the city trying to survey the number of people sleeping on the city's streets.

On Tuesday, they were out in the bitter cold to count the number of people sleeping on park benches, on subway platforms and anywhere else outside.

It's a search for the city's chronically homeless.

This year, teams have a new addition, the city's freshly-minted homeless services commissioner.

Gilbert Taylor started the job two weeks ago.

No stranger to city government, Taylor served as a top official in child welfare under Mayor Bloomberg.

He now promises a different approach to homelessness.

"Focusing our efforts on improving shelter conditions," said Taylor.

In the small hours of Tuesday, Taylor's team was conducting the survey, known as HOPE, just as it has been done in years past.

The freezing cold potentially complicating the results, sending homeless into shelters when they may not otherwise look for help.

"We can't legally force them to go indoors, we have to appreciate their rights," said Joe Hallmark, one of the volunteers.

A right Arthur Cheatham wanted to exercise.

"I don't go to the shelter, because it's one thing on paper. It's like the Knicks. They look great on paper. The shelter looks great on paper, but there are a lot of activities that go on in there." said Cheatham, a homeless man.

"With more time and perhaps less people we might be able to get him to come in," said Taylor.

Time is now what Taylor has, along with a charge to reduce record levels of homelessness across the city. Levels, he says, his former boss could have addressed.

"I think more attention could have been paid to the conditions of and the experience of those that are in shelter," said Taylor.

The commissioner arrived here back at headquarters a little before 2 a.m. And he called the entire experience a new start, what he says will be a fresh approach to fighting homelessness.

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