Posted by Ellie Grimes, Special Projects Coordinator | February 15, 2018
Every year through HUD, UNITY of Greater New Orleans coordinates a “Point in Time count”. This event consists of two full days of volunteers walking the streets of New Orleans to get an accurate as possible count of the homeless population, as well as a survey of their needs and other demographic information. This data is used to help give local and federal organizations a better understanding of the needs of people experiencing homelessness in the Greater New Orleans area and how we can better serve them.
As the Special Projects Coordinator with Catholic Charities, I have had the opportunity to work alongside our case managers to give housing/shelter and other emergency relief assistance to our clients. Through this work I have had the chance to touch the lives of many, as well as learn from those we serve. I have found this work is incredibly meaningful and a critically important part of the functioning and vibrancy of the people of New Orleans. This sentiment was only further solidified by my experience with the point-in-time count.
I volunteered for the time slot from 8pm-2am on Tuesday, January 23rd. After an hour of training, my team, which was led by an officer who worked for the NOPD Homeless Assistance Unit, hit the streets. We were assigned the Mid-City area and found an encampment of people along the highway overpass as well as in a more wooded area nearby.
The people we met were incredibly friendly and welcomed us into their shelters. These shelters were not merely half-heartedly assembled tents—one in particular was an elevated platform with metal sheeting that had been bolted together to create a barrier from the cold outside. I stepped up and into the shelter and immediately felt relief from the freezing wind. A generator buzzed outside, which enabled the encampment to be lit with multiple lamps and for a heater to create a cozy atmosphere. It was a bit cramped inside as the three people living there allowed all four of us inside to interview them. As I asked the survey questions I gazed around at the flashlights, tool kits, blankets and clothes that occupied the shelter—I couldn’t help but be amazed with how much they were able to do with so little.
After completing the surveys, they offered to introduce us to others in their community—a community where it was made apparent that people looked out for one another and cared deeply for those that needed help. Everyone was more than willing to share their story and contribute to the data collection. They were grateful for the work that we were doing and happy to put forward their knowledge to help our cause.
This experience gave me a fresh perspective of those that Catholic Charities serves every day. Even though we are able to assist this population through our programs, the intimacy of being welcomed into their shelters and learning about their lives was truly inspirational and uplifting.