Everyone Counts

During the week I set a pretty strict bedtime of 11pm. This is extremely frustrating to Matt, who likes to spend some time “winding down” after work and doesn’t like being held to a strict schedule. So, what in the world could keep me awake on a Monday night until 4:30am when Matt was fast asleep?

HOPE, that’s what. And I’m not talking about the Hope that Obama served up during the 2008 election – I am talking about the Homeless Outreach Population Estimate.

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HOPE is an annual survey used to assess the number of individuals living in New York City’s public spaces. In a way, it is a census for folks who don’t have mailboxes or permanent addresses. It is accounting for the thousands of folks who sleep on the street each and every night in New York City.

Last night thousands of volunteers, including 20 Robin Hood Staff and 20 Robin Hood supporters, teamed up and set out to survey New York’s streets, subways and parks. Conducted by the New York City Department of Homeless Services (DHS), HOPE is a point-in-time estimate of unsheltered individuals that helps the City evaluate its outreach programs and providers and measure its progress.

To increase public accountability and continually evaluate and improve the programming designed to help street homeless New Yorkers, DHS began surveying parts of the City in 2003, and has conducted the count citywide every year since 2005.

HOPE is an integral part of New York City’s approach to ending homelessness. The annual survey aims to achieve the following:

  • Provide a consistent year-to-year measure of the city’s programs to help those living on the streets move off the streets and into permanent housing.
  • Provide the city with a way to measure its outreach providers. In September 2007, New York City created Street to Home outreach services, which established a single accountable provider of services in each borough. HOPE highlights areas where outreach providers are successfully moving people off the streets, and where there is room for improvement.
  • Provide thousands of New Yorkers with an opportunity to help New York’s homeless residents, and contribute to New York City’s fight against homelessness.

Does walking around in the freezing cold on random NYC streets at 2am sound crazy? Trust me, it’s worth it! It’s an forgettable, eye-opening experience. Please read below to see just how moving this experience can be:

“A Recounting of the Street Count”
as told by a Robin Hood Staff Member

 As Team 21 was going around our counting route, we went into the 23rd street subway station (A/C line) and saw two people underneath a blanket on a few cardboard pieces in the area outside the turnstiles.  There were a few backpacks and scattered personal items, but it seemed at first like the two people were asleep.  Then one of our team members heard some Spanish and he used his skills to start a conversation.  At first hesitant, the man under the blanket started speaking English.  We learned that the couple had been together for a very long time and that the woman, Veronica, was pregnant.  After being told about the possibility of staying in a shelter last night, he was nervous that they would be separated.  We made some calls and figured out that they could and would be taken to a family shelter across town at 33rd and 1st at which they would stay together since they were a family and Veronica was expecting.  We called the van service and began waiting.

After hearing that we were 99% sure that they would stay together, the man asked about that 1% chance and began getting a little guarded.  His expression soured as we explained the possible consequences of being separated.  After talking about some of the benefits to staying in a shelter and reminding them of all the potential positive impacts, we gave them some private time to talk it over, and when we returned, he had started to pack up their things.  It was around this time that the woman started speaking to us as well, first joking to her partner in Spanish – luckily he explained the jokes to us – and then beginning to open up and speak English. While 2 team members went back above ground to wait for the van to come pick up this couple, another team member and myself sat down and talked with Veronica and her partner.  We showed them on a subway map where they would be going, and they showed up where they had been staying for the past week.  The man said that the subway was a far better option that sleeping by the River in East Harlem as they had been doing for some time.  The van arrived 20 minutes after we first called, and the driver confirmed that Veronica, her partner, and her baby to be would all be staying together and going to the family shelter.  We shook hands, hugged, wished them well, and kept on counting.

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Be Robin Hood

I blogged earlier 2011 is going to be an amazing year. Matt and I are getting married, I am committed to making the most out of living in New York, my sister will lead her OWN swim team during conference and the national championships, and hopefully the Patriots continue their latest string of successes with a Super Bowl win. But most importantly, in 2011, I will get to be Robin Hood.

Last week I blogged about some exciting career news that I had to share. And now I can finally announce that, as of today, I am a proud member of the Robin Hood Foundation. An opportunity presented itself for me to leave my previous position and join this amazing organization. And while this position will undoubtably come with many challenges, longer hours than I am used to and a lot of work, I believe that it will be worth it. For the past two years, I have been thirsting for a bigger challenge, a more meaningful mission, and to be part of an organization that is proud of its work. After spending one day in their office, I know I have found all of these things.

I have blogged about Robin Hood before, but for those of you that are unfamiliar with it, Robin Hood is a charitable organization that fights poverty in New York City. Currently, 1.8 million New Yorkers are living in poverty. Together, they could populate the fifth largest city in the United States–larger than Boston, Atlanta and San Francisco combined. These people struggle with the rising costs of food and housing, and fewer opportunities for adequate health care, quality education and secure employment exist.

Robin Hood is changing the fates and saving the lives of these people by applying investment principles to charitable giving. They find, fund and create the most effective programs and schools serving families in New York City’s poorest neighborhoods.

Robin Hood follows an extensive due diligence process to ensure that every dollar invested generates results. Before investing in a program, Robin Hood reviews its strategy, scrutinizes its financial statements, evaluates its management teams, and conducts multiple visits.

And the support doesn’t stop there. Robin Hood protects and leverages its charitable investments with top-notch management and technical assistance. Their in-house management experts help programs with their strategic and financial planning, recruiting and legal concerns, organizational issues and capital needs…with whatever they require. And if they don’t have the expertise in-house, they get it elsewhere. They have access to the top people and firms in New York to get the job done pro bono.

And because Robin Hood’s board of directors pays all administrative, fundraising and evaluation costs, 100% of donations goes directly to organizations helping impoverished New Yorkers build better lives.

So… for those of you wondering what it is like to work at Robin Hood… I can now tell you. I started my first day with an all staff meeting that felt more like a really interesting college seminar on business analytics coupled with a high school pep rally. The obvious intelligence in the room was almost as much as the pride and honor the employees felt for their organization and for each other. The meeting culminated with the presentation of a cake depicting a scene from the movie Robin Hood, which was created, by who other than Buddy, the Cake Boss.

Not a bad way to start the year.

Robin Hood Responds

All of us have heard the story of Robin Hood. Robin Hood became a popular folk figure starting in medieval times continuing through modern literature, films, and television. A highly skilled archer and swordsman, he is known for “robbing from the rich and giving to the poor,” assisted by a group of fellow outlaws known as his “Merry Men.”

 

The Robin Hood Foundation, formed in 1988 by a successful hedge fund manager, applies this idea, of taking from the rich and giving to the poor, to help fight poverty in New York City. The board of Directors (the Merry Men) totes some of the most influential names in our society; from NBC President and CEO Jeff Zucker to Gwyneth Paltrow to many of the leaders in the financial industries. Power, knowledge and resources combine to run, and more impressively, to underwrite all administrative costs of the foundation so that 100% of every dollar donated goes directly to help those in need.

Robin Hood was a pioneer in what is now called venture philanthropy, or charity that embraces free-market forces. An early practitioner of using metrics to measure the effectiveness of grants, it applies sound investment principles to philanthropy. In doing so, the foundation has helped to save lives and change fates.  

Robin Hood targets poverty by identifying and attacking the main source. That’s why Robin Hood focuses on poverty prevention through programs in early childhood, youth, education, jobs and economic security. And while prevention is the under lying goal, there are people who are currently living in poverty, so they also fund basic survival programs in healthcare, hunger, housing and domestic violence.

Last night I had the honor of attending Robin Hood’s annual gala which was held at the Jacob Javits Center. Being part of such an incredible movement was inspiring. Being in a room that raised just over $88 million in the span of one evening is an experience you can’t imagine. While it is easy to point fingers at Wall Street, especially after recent events, it is hard to ignore the generosity and good will of so many. I was reminded how fortunate I am to have been raised by strong and supportive parents. They worked hard for their success and taught me to do the same. While my bank account and list of accomplishments pales in comparison to many of the other people in the room, I certainly have a lot more to my name, and have experienced a lot more in my 27 years, than many other New Yorkers.

 

So I thank my parents and family members for providing me with the education and tools to succeed. I promise to make more of an effort to remember this “not so little thing” every day.