On February 18th, myself and two other AmeriCorps members grabbed our flashlights, put on some extra layers, and stayed out late to participate in the annual Point in Time Count in New Britain. Point in Time, a national initiative from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, aims to count the number of sheltered and unsheltered homeless individuals in the coldest nights of winter to understand our ability to provide shelter to the nation’s homeless. In Connecticut, the program is managed by the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness, and spans various towns from Cheshire to Hartford.
This year, Point in Time included a measure of vulnerability – the Vulnerability Index & Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Tool or VI-SPDAT – to consider the factors which may prevent a person from reaching the appropriate services. This index would also serve as a means to find services that may apply to an individual’s needs.
When I arrived at the Friendship Service Center with my fellow corps members, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I work with CHC’s healthcare for the homeless program, Wherever You Are (WYA), but this only provides me a small window of experience in the context of a few shelters. I was a bit nervous to go out into the city at night, but excited to get involved with the community in a new way.
After an intensive period of safety training and discussion, my corps members and I were given counting measures and identification buttons, assigned an area to check, and left the building with an invigorated sense of excitement. However, going out into the night was a bitter reminder of the difficulties facing the homeless; it was in the single digits, and even all of my layers couldn’t prevent me from the wind. As we walked, my corps members and I talked about our gratitude for what shelter and resources we had available to us. We agreed that at times it’s easy to forget our privilege – this experience allowed us some perspective.
My group never did find any homeless individuals. Ellen Simpson, the director of the Friendship Center, reminded us that this was a wonderful sign: this provided evidence that the model of outreach and service in New Britain is working. As my group piled back into the car to drive home, we all agreed that it was a wonderful experience, and a reminder of the important work we do every day.
By Julia Sisson, AmeriCorps