Could You Sleep Outside?
This perspective is Part II of a two-part series documenting the experiences of Pathways to Housing PA internes, Emily Mann and Gracie Harrington at the 2016 Point in Time Count.
On the night of the Point in Time count I had the opportunity to see my neighborhood in a different light. Signs of homelessness are visible during the day, such as a sheet or sleeping bag that is soaking up moisture from the sidewalk vents or a line of people waiting in line to receive a meal. I didn’t realize how drastically my perspective would change, or how little I knew about my neighborhood before participating in Project HOME’s Point in Time Count. My experience as a volunteer that night, however, confirmed my interest in working to end homelessness in Philadelphia.
Upon moving to Philadelphia, I became more drawn to working with the homeless population and learning what I could do, at the individual level, to help someone who appears to be living on the street. It seemed to me as though each person that I asked had their own philosophy as to how to interact, or not, with someone who appears to be homeless and who may be asking for help. I became a student intern at Pathways to Housing PA where I would have the opportunity to learn more about what is actively being done to end homelessness and was invited to volunteer for the Point in Time count along with my two supervisors, Jessie and Rob, and my fellow intern, Gracie.
We walked up and down the streets in our assigned area, careful to survey anyone who we saw and was willing to give us their time. The first person we saw walking down the street was a man who was walking casually in a jacket and carrying nothing on him. Although we didn’t suspect him to be homeless, we asked him if he would be willing to give us his time to answer a few questions on our survey. Once he accepted, we all listened intently as he opened up to us and told us his story. When we asked if he would like us to help him find somewhere to sleep that night, by calling the Outreach Hotline, he politely declined and assured us that he would be OK. Once the survey was complete, he wished us a good night and carried on his walk to find a spot to rest his head for the rest of the night.
Toward the end, as we were walking along our last few streets of our assigned area, we came across a couple of well-hidden sleepers. One of which was sound asleep in a dark alley, where he was buried in a pile of trash bags. I was reminded that not only were these individuals doing what was necessary to keep warm on this cold January night, but they may have also been doing what was necessary to make themselves invisible for their own safety and, ultimately, to rest their bodies and minds for the days to come.
What I took from this experience is the appreciation for the organizations in Philadelphia that are working together to provide resources for those who are experiencing homelessness. The amount of volunteers that participated on that night proved that there are many people in Philadelphia who are cognizant of the issue of homelessness in our city and optimistic about the power we have to make a difference when we come together.
(If you missed Part I of the two-part series, be sure to check out Gracie's post about her experience volunteering in the PIT Count!)
About the Author
Emily Mann is a student at Temple University getting ready to graduate with a BA in Sociology this coming May. With hopes to pursue a Master’s in Social Work in the next few years, she hopes to continue working toward providing adequate housing for everyone in Philadelphia. In her free time, Emily enjoys exploring the city by bike, drinking smoothies, eating falafel, and talking to strangers.