It's Cold Outside

  • Three volunteers walk past the Philadelphia skyline while participating in the Point in Time Count.
    Three volunteers walk past the Philadelphia skyline while participating in the Point in Time Count.
  • Three volunteers walk outside will participating in the Point in Time Count.
    Three volunteers walk outside will participating in the Point in Time Count.
  • The sign for 12th street at night.
    The sign for 12th street at night.
  • A volunteer walks on a snow path while participating in the Point in Time Count.
    A volunteer walks on a snow path while participating in the Point in Time Count.

This perspective is Part I of a two-part series documenting the experiences of Pathways to Housing PA Interns Gracie Harrington and Emily Mann at the 2016 Point in Time Count.

I had butterflies in my stomach. As I entered the doors of Rodeph Shalom, I braced myself for what I knew would be a life-changing evening. The previous week when Jessie Marushak, the Director of Development at Pathways to Housing PA, had asked me to participate in the Point in Time Count I had eagerly said yes. I was thankful to get the opportunity to see the purpose of Pathways to Housing PA’s mission come to life, however after agreeing to attend this event, I began to wrap my mind around what was to come.

Each year, 25 cities across the United States hold an event called the Point in Time Count (or “PIT” for short). One night from 10 pm to 3:30 am, hundreds of volunteers in each city walk through a designated area and count the number of homeless individuals. This experience is not only moving for the volunteers, but also is logistically necessary for non-profits like Pathways to acquire federal funding to end homelessness.

I walked through the doors of Rodeph Shalom and was instantly shocked by what I saw: a massive room packed with hundreds of volunteers. Gleefully, volunteers chatted and explained their anticipation for the night. Although a smile lay across my face, I still felt the tightness of knots in my stomach.

At around 11:00 pm the crowd quieted down, and we were introduced to multiple important speakers. From Mayor Jim Kenney to White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, it seemed that everyone had an interest in not only making this night possible, but also ending homelessness. After hearing closing remarks from the incredible directors of this event, we were off to begin our evening.

My team drove to our area of the city, eager to begin our night. We parked the car, got out, and began walking up and down the streets. “This isn’t so bad” I thought. “Perhaps we won’t even see anyone homeless.” We began to walk through an underpass, when I saw a man walking toward us. He was tall and slender, with a slow but steady gait. As we walked closer to him, I knew that we had to ask him the questions on our survey (any person we encountered were to be asked these questions). I could not help but think asking him was a waste of time; he did not look homeless to me.

As we met under the underpass, each of us exchanged names. A calming smile spread across his face as we shook hands. “We are completing a survey tonight; would you be interested in answering it?” we asked. “Sure” he answered.

As we began asking him our survey questions, it became clear that my preconceived notions were incorrect: he had no place to call a home tonight. The reason he was walking around was because he was looking for a comfortable place to rest his head on that cold January night. As we continued to ask him questions, his story grew deeper and more complex. He explained to us what he had been through and what he had seen. Like most people without a home, he had a story.

We thanked him for his time. He continued on his path and we continued on ours. As I bit my lip to hide back tears, I heard something surprising from a fellow volunteer: “he seemed in good spirits” she said. “I think he will be just fine.” These words awoke me from my thoughts. She was right, he was in good spirits. His road had been hard, but he had not given up.

I had been nervous for the Point in Time Count out of fear of what I would see. In all honesty, it is hard to hear these stories. Every time I hear the story of one of our participant’s, there is not a dry eye in the room. It is difficult to hear the pain that others walking this earth have been forced to feel, but what is not discussed enough is the strength of these survivors.

Our participants are strong, brave, and resilient. They have experienced hardships that most of us could not fathom, but they have gotten through. With the assistance of Pathways, our participants are able to get a home, a job, reconnect with their families, and enjoy life again. Attending the Point in Time Count reminded me of where our participants have been, and the strength they have had to get to where they are today. With deep gratitude, I would like to thank the Point in Time count for giving me this opportunity. 

About the Author:

Gracie Harrington graduated in 2015 from Wake Forest University with a B.A. in Politics and International Affairs, where she served as President of the Gay-Straight Student Alliance, a Resident Advisor, President's Aide, member of Alpha Delta Pi sorority, and recipient of the 2014 Martin Luther King Jr. "Building the Dream Award." In 2015, Gracie was awarded the Campus Pride Voice & Action Sorority/Fraternity Award for her work in LGBTQ activism. Gracie hopes to have a career in development work so everyone can have the opportunity to flourish in their life. 

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