Mayor Joins Volunteers for Annual Homeless Count

More than 3,000 volunteers joined Mayor Bill de Blasio on the city's streets overnight to count the homeless around the five boroughs. NY1's Courtney Gross filed the following report.

For the first time, the mayor participated in the city's homeless count.

"It's my first HOPE count," de Blasio said. "I have done homeless outreach efforts before, but not a HOPE count."

The HOPE count is an annual survey of the city's street homeless where thousands of volunteers scour city blocks in the middle of the night to count the number of people that choose to sleep on the sidewalks instead of shelters.

The mayor's participation comes at a critical time. The homeless crisis has been thrust to the top of his agenda as New Yorkers claim they are seeing more and more people sleeping on the streets.

In past years, NY1 was able to follow the volunteers with cameras. However, this year, we were not allowed to bring our camera along. City Hall said that this restriction was due to privacy reasons. Instead, the mayor's personal photographer documented the journey.

One of the photos shows the mayor surveying a large homeless encampment near Herald Square.

"It’s very sad and it's painful to see people's lives that have broken down, and you know, there but for the grace of God go I. I think we all have to feel that way," de Blasio said.

When NY1 returned to the streets with our camera, they counted at least 12 people sleeping in the cold as snow fell.

The mayor spent more than an hour walking up and down the city blocks with the federal housing secretary, Julian Castro, and the City Council speaker.

At one point, the mayor asked one homeless man, his face hidden by mounds of clothing, if he was OK.

At another point, a homeless veteran approached the mayor, asking him what he was planning on doing to help people like him.

"We're still finding new people ending up homeless who are veterans and we want to address that very, very quickly,” de Blasio said. “So we said to him, we are going to find a home for him."

NY1 found the homeless veteran, Patrick Jones, after the mayor went home to get his thoughts on de Blasio’s promise. Jones has been homeless for seven months.

"He said he is going to find us some housing, some apartments in general," Jones said. "I’ve been reading that stuff in the newspapers for six months. He says it takes time. But how much time does it take?"

The HOPE count is about the chronically homeless, the people who refuse shelter. In the end, of all the homeless individuals the mayor encountered, none of them were taken inside.

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